Georgia Southwestern starting pitcher Zach Smith, right, is congratulated by teammate Coty Graham during Wednesday’s win against Albany State. Smith threw a complete game for the Hurricanes and allowed just two hits. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
AMERICUS — Georgia Southwestern right-hander Zach Smith felt like his Hurricanes underestimated Albany State in a 7-2 loss to the Rams back on Feb. 18.
On Wednesday, a focused Smith was the difference maker in the rematch.
Smith, a freshman from Savannah, tossed a two-hit complete game against the Rams to lead GSW to a 6-1 victory, continuing the Hurricanes’ recent surge and snapping ASU’s 10-game winning streak.
“This time we came out prepared,” Smith said. “We have been hitting the ball better than we have in the past and pitching to our potential.”
The Hurricanes, who started the season 5-19, have now won five of their last six and looked inspired against an Albany State team that has now only lost three times since the beginning of March.
“The guys have been playing well the last couple of weeks, and we just wanted to keep adding on to that, and they did. They did a good job,” GSW coach Bryan McLain said. “We have made a turn (on the season).”
The Rams had won 17 of 19 entering the game and hadn’t lost on the road since Feb. 22, but they fell behind early in the second inning when GSW capitalized on two Allen Hardy errors before jumping ahead 2-0 on a two-run single from Josh Sanders. Both runs were unearned for ASU starter and Leesburg native Andrew Bacon, who left the game after two innings and allowed two hits.
The ASU relievers kept GSW off the scoreboard until the eighth inning when Stephen Eldridge hit a no-doubter over the left field wall off Rams right-hander Brian Winns with two runners on base.
After that, there was no coming back for the Rams.
“A 2-0 game was anybody’s game all the way through,” ASU coach Kenyan Conner said. “I’m not really mad or disappointed. I just want our guys to learn from this and learn how to keep a close game close and give us a chance to win at the end.”
While GSW’s scoring came in bunches in the second and eighth innings, the Rams stayed baffled at the plate with Smith racking up nine strikeouts. ASU’s two hits were a seeing-eye single by Hardy in the fifth inning and a Joseph Virgo double in the ninth inning. The Rams broke up Smith’s shutout with one out in the ninth when Fontaine Washington scored on an Emmanual Santos groundout.
“We just didn’t hit,” Conner said. “We made some contact, but it just didn’t fall. You can’t beat anybody with two hits.”
Smith’s answer was simple when asked about his pitching performance: “I just hit my spots. I kept it low with all of my pitches.”
It was just the second collegiate start for Smith, who typically comes out of the bullpen for the Hurricanes.
“(Smith) went out and commanded the strike zone all game long,” McLain said. “We kind of went into a funk after we scored two runs (in the second inning), but he just kept shutting them down.”
GSW (10-20) is back in action Friday at Young Harris College for a Peach Belt Conference matchup, while ASU returns home for an SIAC doubleheader Saturday against Benedict College. The Rams (22-15), who are unbeaten in the conference, can clinch an East Division regular-season title with two wins against second-place Benedict in this weekend’s three-game series.
NOTES: Georgia Southwestern entered Wednesday’s game coming off a series win against nationally-ranked No. 2 Lander University. GSW split with Lander on Sunday and then escaped with an 8-7 win in Monday’s rubber game. … GSW has two Leesburg natives on its roster: senior pitcher Matthew Suggs and junior infielder Les Cromer. Suggs leads the Hurricanes with a 3.63 ERA and is 3-2 in nine appearances. Cromer, who has started 24 games at second base, entered Wednesday’s game hitting .250 with seven RBIs and a .374 on-base percentage. … GSW left fielder Evan Alderman entered Wednesday’s game with a 12-game hitting streak. He extended the streak to 13 with a single in his first plate appearance. Alderman finished the game 2-for-4 and reached base four times. … GSW now leads the all-time series against ASU, 12-4.