COLLEGE BASEBALL ROUNDUP: Ex-Lee star Nichols blasts first HR for Georgia; Tech, FSU, Auburn all sweep

Former Lee County baseball star and 2012 Herald Player of the Year Daniel Nichols finished 2-for-4 with a home run --- his first of his college career --- for Georgia on Saturday.

Former Lee County baseball star and 2012 Herald Player of the Year Daniel Nichols finished 2-for-4 with a home run --- his first of his college career --- for Georgia on Saturday.

STATESBORO — Daniel Nichols couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

Well, almost.

The former Lee County star and 2012 Ray Knight Albany Herald Player of the Year smashed his first career collegiate home run Saturday — but it came in a losing effort by the Bulldogs (1-1) to Georgia Southern, 3-2.

Nichols’ two-out blast in the ninth cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to 3-2, but UGA would get no closer. Nichols finished the day 2-for-4. The two teams play the series finale today at 1:30 p.m.

Georgia Southern evened its series with Georgia in front of a crowd of 3,098 at Jack Stallings Field.

The Eagles (1-1) grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first, utilizing two doubles, two stolen bases and a Bulldog miscue. Another former Lee County star, Chase Griffin, pushed the first run across on a sacrifice fly while T.D. Davis added an RBI-double. Georgia (1-1) got one run back in the second on an Eagle error. GSU reclaimed a two-run lead in the third. Third baseman Ben Morgan reached on a leadoff walk, stole second and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Arthur Owens for a 3-1 advantage.

Georgia redshirt junior Patrick Boling made his first start since 2011, and the Bulldog registered a career-high nine strikeouts in four innings. However, he left trailing 3-1 as Georgia turned to senior Bryan Benzor to start the fifth. Meanwhile, Eagle sophomore left-hander Sam Howard kept the Bulldogs off balance, going seven innings and allowing just one unearned run on five hits with no walks and seven strikeouts.

The Eagled looked to Chris Myers who took care of the eighth and Kyle Rowe pitched the ninth for his first save. Georgia’s bullpen provided four scoreless innings. Senior right-hander Bryan Benzor pitched three innings, allowing just one hit with a walk and a strikeout. Sophomore left-hander Jarrett Brown tossed the eighth frame for the Bulldogs. Howard (1-0) earned the win while Boling dropped to 0-1.

“I was disappointed, not in the team but in myself as we didn’t handle their left-hander today, and I have to get them prepared better,” said Georgia coach David Perno. “I thought we would pitch better today, and I thought we did that, but bottom line is we didn’t hit. Overall, we played a good game but came up short. We’ve got to get some runs when we get the leadoff guy on and get some more two-out hits.”

Nichols smashed his first career home run with a two-out blast in the ninth to cut it to 3-2. However, Rowe came back to retire Brett DeLoach to secure the Eagles win. Bulldog sophomore second baseman Nelson Ward went 2-for-3 to give him six hits in the series.

Georgia Tech hammers Akron

THE FLATS - Junior RF Daniel Palka finished 4-for-4, including a towering home run to right field as No. 21 Georgia Tech pounded out 14 hits and zipped past Akron, 10-3, Saturday afternoon at Russ Chandler Stadium to win the season-opening series.

Palka finished with three RBI, scored twice and matched his career high in hits. Freshman 2B Matt Gonzalez was 3-for-3 with an RBI and two stolen bases, while sophomore 1B A.J. Murray chipped in a pair of singles and drove in a run.

"Palka got us off to a great start and hit a long home run, but the middle of the order came through today and that was a good sign," said head coach Danny Hall. "It was also good for us to get to play a lot of guys, and get guys some innings."

The Jackets (2-0) go for the series sweep on Sunday, with a 1 p.m. first pitch.

For the second game in a row, Tech seized a 1-0 in the first inning, then tacked on three more in the second and never looked back. Murray drew a bases-loaded walk in the first inning to open the scoring, and a bases-loaded two-RBI single from Palka made it 4-0 in the second.

Akron (0-2) scratched across a run in the fourth - the only blemish in five innings of work for junior starter Dusty Isaacs - but Tech slammed the door with a five-spot in the bottom half thanks to RBIs from Zane Evans, Gonzalez, Mitch Earnest and Kyle Wren.

Palka's blast in the fifth inning - his first of the season and 25th of his career - cleared the trees which line the outfield wall in right field and capped Tech's scoring.

Isaacs picked up the win by allowing just three hits and a run with six strikeouts over five innings. Junior Jonathan Roberts was tagged with two unearned runs in two innings of relief, and sophomore Josh Heddinger and senior Clay Dalton each fired scoreless frames to close it out.

Akron starter Pat Dyer lasted just four outs and was charged the loss after yielding four runs on four hits with four walks and no strikeouts. Brady Stewart and James Sheltrown each had two hits for the visitors.

Palka's previous career-high of four hits came on a 4-for-5 effort in a 9-8 win over North Carolina on May 14, 2011 - a game in which his walk-off single was the difference.

FSU beats Rhode Island, moves to 2-0

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - No. 9 Florida State (2-0) erased a late one-run deficit scoring five runs over the seventh and eighth innings as the Seminoles defeated Rhode Island (0-2) 6-2 Saturday afternoon in front of 5,229 on Mike Martin Field inside Dick Howser Stadium.

"If you are looking at this baseball game, you have to be pleased with the way we kept our poise and just battled," said head coach Mike Martin. "Sure it was chilly, but we fought and did what we had to do to win the baseball game and I am very proud of our young men."

Brandon Johnson worked a career-high 3.0 innings in relief to earn the win, while Josh Delph paced the Seminole offense with two hits on a double and a single in his first two at-bats. The sophomore right fielder also walked twice as he reached base on four of his five plate appearances.

"A good outing for him," said Martin on the relief performance by Johnson. "We've always had a lot of faith in him and to go out there and pitch like he did, it was just very impressive."

Justin Gonzalez hit his first home run of the season, a solo shot over the fence in right center to start the bottom of the eighth, while John Sansone and Jameis Winston both registered their first career hits in the win on a single and a stand-up triple, respectively.

DJ Stewart and Stephen McGee contributed with a hit a piece as the Seminoles finished the game with seven. McGee reached base on all five of his plate appearances on Saturday afternoon as he tied a career-high with four walks. FSU finished the game drawing 12 walks as a team.

Both teams had their chances to push some runs across early but Florida State manufactured the only run through the first six innings when Sansone recorded a two-out single to center in the fourth and scored three batters later as Stewart drew a bases loaded walk to give FSU a 1-0 lead.

The two teams combined to leave 26 men on base on Saturday including 14 by the Seminoles.

"That is a good team over there," said Gonzalez on the play of Rhode Island. "For us to fight back and get that win today shows a lot about the character of our team early in the season."

In the seventh, Rhode Island grabbed its first lead of the series pushing two runs across to take a 2-1 advantage. Jeff Roy drew a walk to start the seventh off Gage Smith and moved to second on a bunt base hit by Joe Landi. Roy would tie the game at 1-1 one batter later on an errant throw by Jose Brizuela on a groundball off the bat of Mike LeBel. Pat Quinn gave the Rams a one-run lead on sac-fly to left.

The lead was short lived as the Seminoles took advantage of a fielding error, three walks and a hit-by-pitch by URI in the bottom of the seventh to plate three runs and retake the lead at 4-2. Brizuela brought home McGee with the tying run as he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Sansone followed with a bases loaded walk to give FSU the lead for good, while Winston scored the third run of the inning on a wild pitch.

"A lot of things were so encouraging in that Brizuela wears one to tie the game - a big, big play right there," said Martin. "It was one of those that got away from the pitcher. It was well into the batter's box and so instead of running from it, he wears it. That is a mark of a winner."

FSU added to its lead in the eighth when Gonzalez took a 1-0 pitch from Rob Curran over the fence in right center for his first home run of the season and 20th of his career. Stewart followed with a single, moved to second on McGee's fourth walk of the afternoon and advanced to third when Seth Miller reached on a sacrifice bunt courtesy of a fielding error by Curran. Nogowski would bring home Stewart on a sac-fly to left to give the Seminoles a 6-2 advantage.

Seminole starter Scott Sitz did not factor into the decision as he worked 4.0 shutout innings allowing four hits and one walk while striking out four.

"Scott Sitz had a good outing," added Martin. "They did a good job of being patient and getting his pitch count up. I thought he pitched very well the innings that he had."

Kyle Bird worked an inning in relief as he allowed a hit and two walks as he struck out two. Smith was charged with two runs on two hits and a walk over an inning of work.

Johnson then came in and shut down Rhode Island allowing just one hit and one walk over the final 3.0 innings. It marked the longest outing of the junior southpaw's career eclipsing the previous mark of 2.0 innings set against NC State back on March 17, 2012.

"I had good feel for my change-up today," said Johnson. "My fastball was really spotting up and had a lot of movement on it so it was very useful for me tonight."

"Brandon has been doing well all fall and spring and for him to come out there and do what he did shows a lot," added Gonzalez. "He's a bulldog; he is going to throw strikes and let his defense work which is exactly what he did today."

The Seminoles and Rams will return to the diamond for the final game of the series on Sunday, February 17 at 12:00 p.m. Junior right hander Peter Miller will be on the mound for FSU, while right hander Liam O'Sullivan will take the hill for Rhode Island.

Auburn rolls for second straight day

AUBURN, Ala. - Michael O'Neal held Maine to just three runs (two earned) in 5 2/3 innings as the Auburn baseball team completed a doubleheader sweep on Saturday with a 4-3 win in the second game. The win improved Auburn to 3-0.

"One of the things we talked about was focus and concentration; stay locked-in all 18 innings," Auburn Head Coach John Pawlowski said. "After the first game the concentration could have wavered. We scored a lot of runs with a lot of two-out hits and our guys really buckled down. It was a close game. That game wasn't over until the last pitch."

"It was a really exciting atmosphere," O'Neal said. "I can pitch a lot better. I didn't hit my spots but I got outs like I should and I got quick outs. I was very efficient with my pitches. I was trying to get into the sixth inning. I didn't finish it so I still have stuff to work on for my next outing."

O'Neal, a junior college transfer making his first appearance, retired the first six hitters he faced before surrendering a single run in the third on a Colin Gay RBI single. Auburn would answer Maine's run with a three-run bottom of the third, marking the third time in as many games that Auburn would come from behind on Maine (0-3).

Ryan Tella, who was 1-for-3, drove in two runs with a third-inning triple and then scored on a Garrett Cooper RBI groundout to put Auburn ahead, 3-1.

A Tanner Cimo sac fly in the fourth scored Sam Gillikin, who had walked earlier in the inning, to stretch Auburn's lead to 4-1.

Maine clawed back in the sixth with a pair of runs off of O'Neal, capitalizing on the pitcher's throwing error, to make it a one-run game but Auburn's bullpen trio of Jay Wade (1 1/3 innings), Conner Kendrick (one inning) and Terrance Dedrick (one inning) limited Maine to just two hits while striking out five to close out the game.

Dedrick, who earned the win in the season-opener on Friday, got the final three outs, striking out the first and last hitter he faced to pick up the save.

Maine's A.J. Bazdanes (0-1) took the loss, allowing all four of Auburn's runs in five innings on five hits and three walks while striking out one.

Auburn won the first game of the doubleheader, 12-3.

Auburn, which has now begun a season 3-0 for the 24th time since 1949, will look to go to 4-0 for just the 17th time in that same time frame when it goes for the four-game series sweep on Sunday. Dillon Ortman will get the starting nod on the mound for Auburn while Maine will start Mike Connolly. First pitch is set for 11am at Plainsman Park.