Rams baserunner Williams Smalls, left, slides safely into second base during Thursday’s ASU win, 11-6, after Georgia Southwestern’s Beau Parker of Bainbridge bobbles the throw. (email@example.com)
ALBANY — Kenyan Conner had been waiting the first three weeks of the season for his hitters to step up in the clutch.
On Thursday, Albany State’s bats finally came alive.
The Rams, who had trouble finding hits with runners in scoring position in their first 11 games, racked up one key hit after another in their 11-6 trouncing of Georgia Southwestern.
“They didn’t miss their pitch (Thursday). When they got their pitch, they hit it,” said Conner, whose Rams hadn’t defeated GSW since May 30, 2005. “We really haven’t had a problem hitting the ball. We’ve just had a problem hitting the ball with runners in scoring position. We have been leaving 13, 15, 16 guys on base, and I thought we had a little more timely hitting (Thursday). It was a better clutch hitting effort.”
The Rams scored in each of the first six innings and never trailed after pouring in three runs in the top of the first.
ASU improved to 4-8 and has won three of its past five games, while GSW lost its ninth game in a row and fell to 1-10 overall — an uncharacteristic start for a program that finished well over .500 the past two seasons.
The Hurricanes’ pitching staff just had no answer for an ASU lineup that put the bat on the ball from the top of the order to the bottom. Former Westover star and first baseman Jacob Campbell led the way with three hits, including an RBI double in the second inning.
“I was seeing the ball pretty good,” Campbell said. “We are all starting to click. At the beginning of the year we had no timely hitting. One hit here and there isn’t going to do it. You need to hit in cycles and move runners over, and we are doing that now.”
The Rams began the game with three runs in the first inning and scored two runs in each of the next four innings before adding one more in the sixth.
Rickey Harris belted a lead-off home run in the fourth inning, which brought GSW coach Bryan McLain out of the dugout for a heated discussion with the home plate umpire about whether or not Harris’ bat was legal.
McLain didn’t want to comment on the argument, which lasted a couple of minutes.
Conner said the bat was legal and merely resembled a bat that had recently been outlawed by the NCAA.
“I think that would have been gone no matter what he was using,” Campbell said.
That’s just how far Harris’ shot to left-center was, and that’s just how well the Rams were hitting it Thursday afternoon.
No one appreciated ASU’s offensive explosion more than Rams starting pitcher Ken Nesbitt, who threw five innings and allowed five hits and four runs to pick up his second win of the season.
“It makes you relax,” Nesbitt said. “You have no choice but to relax when you have runs on the board. You pitch to the mitt more and let them get themselves out, instead of pitching around and making them dance.”
Nesbitt was relieved by Clifford Peterson to start the sixth inning, and Peterson pitched three innings and allowed two runs and three hits.
Reigning conference Player of the Year William Smalls was 2-for-4 with an RBI and three runs, and Bainbridge native Stephen Lightfoot was 1-for-3 with a two-run single in the first inning.
GSW, which has had trouble at the plate during its losing streak, scored two runs in the first, third and sixth innings, but it wasn’t enough to save starter Ryan Mosely, who lasted just 1 2/3 innings.
“We are struggling confidence-wise a little bit and trying to do too much,” said McLain, whose Hurricanes will host the Rams on March 14 in Americus. “Sometimes when you get into a slump like we are right now, you try to do things out of character to try to do something different.”
GSW first baseman Andrew Archer hit a two-run homer in the third inning, and Hurricane centerfielder Michel Coffey was 1-for-3 with two RBI and two runs.