GREENWOOD – The Lander baseball team put the tying runs in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth but could not push them across as the Bearcats fell to No. 24-ranked Columbus State 7-5 in their Peach Belt Conference series opener Friday evening at Dolny Stadium.
Lander fell to 8-16 overall, 4-6 in the PBC.
The Cougars are 15-6, 5-2.
The series will continue with a 2 o'clock game Saturday and a 1 p.m. contest Sunday at Dolny Stadium.
Columbus State, the defending national runner-up, is the fifth team that Lander has faced this season currently ranked in the Collegiate Baseball Division II top-25.
Matthew McDade's two-run homer gave Columbus State a 2-1 lead in the second.
Lander tied it in the fourth when Jones walked, moved to second on an error, stole third, and scored on Colton Yeager's ground out.
The Bearcats took a 4-2 lead in the fifth after Josh Gregory hit a leadoff double and moved to third on Bailey Connell's infield single. Gregory scored on Fitschen's single while Connell scored on an error after stealing third.
Landon Dupert's homer to right field extended Lander's lead to 5-2 in the sixth. It was the freshman's second home run of the season, both coming this week. It was the team's 24th homer in 24 games.
Columbus State closed within 5-4 in the seventh when Grant Berry tripled, McDade hit an RBI triple, and Drew Webb delivered an RBI single.
Bearcats starting pitcher Alex Moore left with the lead, allowing four runs on seven hits while walking two and striking out seven in seven innings.
The Cougars took the lead in the eighth after two of their first three batters were hit by pitches. Berry's two-run single put Columbus State on top and he would score on a passed ball to make it 7-5.
Lander threw a scare into the Cougars in the bottom of the ninth. Pinch hitter Kyle Jenkins hit a one-out double and stopped at third on a wild pitch. Roury Glanton walked and moved to second on a passed ball, putting two runners in scoring position with one out. But Columbus State pitcher Devin Dudal recorded the second out on a called third strike, then Connell was barely thrown out on a grounder to short as he dove into first base.
Russell Forthofer (1-0) got the win in relief for the Cougars while Dudal recorded his sixth save. Fraser Ellard (0-2) took the loss for the Bearcats.
Dupert paced Lander's offense, going 3-for-4 with a homer.