Owens, bullpen lead No. 9 Lander to rain-delayed win

Michael White
Michael White

GREENWOOD – The No. 9 Lander Bearcats survived a 6-0 deficit and a three-hour weather delay, storming back to beat 17th-ranked Armstrong Atlantic State 9-6 Saturday night behind stellar relief pitching from Michael White, Scott Elitzky and Kyle Tate, and four RBI by Jordan Owens.

The game started at 7 p.m. Saturday and ended at 12:50 a.m. Sunday.

The teams will conclude their Peach Belt Conference series Sunday with a double-header starting at 1:30 p.m. at Stephen Dolny Stadium.

Lander improved to 25-8 overall and maintains first place in the conference with a 12-4 mark.

Armstrong fell to 21-9 overall, 8-8 in the PBC.

Owens was 2-for-4 with a homer, two runs scored and four RBI. Juan Montana was also 2-for-4 for the Bearcats while Patrick Grady was hit by pitches three times, and scored two runs.

Zach Taylor led the Pirates, going 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBI.

Lander starting pitcher Cory Hopper struggled, allowing six runs on four hits and three walks in one-plus inning. But White, Elitzky and Tate more than picked up the slack, allowing the Bearcats to rally for the win.

White escaped a major jam in the second inning when it was already 6-0, and pitched 4.2 hitless innings. He struck out five and walked three. Elitzky (3-1) was the winning pitcher, allowing one hit in 2.1 innings while walking two and striking out two. Tate pitched a hitless ninth for his first career save, striking out two.

Jesse Osborne (0-1) was the losing pitcher for Armstrong.

The Pirates jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning, starting with Casey Maloney's walk and Taylor's homer off the top of the center field fence, approximately 400 feet away. Lander center fielder Montana made a leaping catch attempt on Taylor's 10th homer of the season.

Alex Frederick then walked, stole second, and moved to third on R.J. Dennard's single to right. Cody Powell hit an RBI double, and Drew Walker and John Roberts followed with run-scoring ground outs to make it 5-0.

Armstrong added a run in the second, but Bearcats reliever White prevented further damage and essentially kept the game from getting out of hand. Mike Barnhill singled and stopped at second when Maloney walked. White relieved Hopper and gave up Taylor's RBI double to right. But with nobody out and runners on second and third, White escaped the jam with two short fly outs and a strikeout.

The Bearcats began their comeback in the bottom of the third when Montana reached on an infield single, stopped at second on Jacob Tisdale's single up the middle, both runners moved to third on Erik Lunde's sacrifice bunt, and Montana scored on AJ Nunziato's sacrifice fly.

The storm delay occurred in the bottom of the fourth after Lander's Weston Lawing reached second on an errant throw by Armstrong's third baseman. With Owens at bat, the game was halted due to lightning at 8 p.m.

And heavy rained followed, and more lightning. The majority of fans left. At 9:45, after lightning cleared the area, they decided to resume the game once the field was prepared. Out came the rakes and the sand. The game resumed at approximately 11 p.m., and Owens promptly doubled down the left-field line, scoring Lawing.

The Bearcats closed within 6-4 in the bottom of the fifth. Lunde and Nunziato walked, and Grady was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Owens walked to force home one run, and Nunziato scored on a wild pitch.

Lander took its first lead in the bottom of the seventh, scoring three times on only one hit, benefitting from three hit by pitches, two walks, and four wild pitches.

Grady led off the seventh with a hit by pitch, and advanced all three bases on three wild pitches to pull the Bearcats within 6-5. Owens, who had walked, scored the tying run on Jeff May's ground out to second. Ian Harvey, who had also walked and stole second, moved to third on May's ground out and scored the go-ahead run on yet another wild pitch.

Still in the seventh, Lander loaded the bases with two outs when Montana singled, and Jacob Tisdale and Lunde were each hit by pitches. But Armstrong's fourth pitcher of the inning – Eric Fowler – struck Nunziato out to end the rally.

Grady was hit by a pitch for the third time in the eighth, and Owens followed with a long two-run homer over the left field fence for a 9-6 lead. It was his sixth homer of the season, and gave him a team-high 43 RBI.

Tate retired the side in order in the ninth to close out the victory.