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Bellflower, McNearney key Bobcat baseball PBC series win

Mar. 18—Brandon Bellflower did it again, only this time it was after Georgia College & State University coach Nolan Belcher followed the ABC's of baseball ... and Georgia Southwestern State didn't follow old-fashioned analytics.

For the second time in the late innings of a Peach Belt Conference baseball game at John Kurtz Field in the last two seasons, Bellflower, now a senior outfielder from Milledgeville, blasted a first-pitch game-winning two-run home run. He did it last season in walk-off fashion for a 2-1 win over South Carolina-Aiken, and then on Saturday his dramatic long-ball came in the bottom of the eighth inning while playing Georgia Southwestern State.

Belcher's Bobcats took a 4-3 lead and held off a Hurricane rally in the ninth to win 5-4. Matthew Mebane, coming off a three-home run game at Newberry the previous Tuesday, followed Bellflower with a solo home run. Lex Kenny pitched out of a bases-loaded situation in the top of the ninth, and even though one run scored it would be the first of two saves in the series for the sophomore.

Georgia College & State University won the series over the Hurricanes 2-1 by coming from behind to win Sunday's game 11-6. Cam McNearney, senior outfielder batting in the No. 9 spot, was a home run short of the cycle, but all of his hits counted for something as he scored two runs and tripled in three runs when the Bobcats took the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Kenny earned a rare three-inning save as he struck out three and allowed two hits (to the same batter) without giving up a run.

The Peach Belt rivals played a double-header Saturday as the schedule was adjusted around weekend rain. Georgia Southwestern won Saturday's nightcap 7-1 behind 308-pound left-handed junior Ray Euson. He pitched eight complete innings allowing the one Bobcat run, and the Hurricanes scored six of their seven in the eighth and ninth.

The series outcome puts the Bobcats in a tie with Augusta for second place in the PBC, both at 6-3 and two games behind North Georgia. GSW fell into a four-way tie for fourth place. The Bobcats are also 15-11 overall heading into the next PBC series at home this weekend against Flagler College, which is also in that four-way tie.

The Hurricanes came to Milledgeville with the best team pitching in the PBC, their earned run average still league-leading at 3.67. Bobcat bats faced two of the top four in ERA in the conference, Euson and Game 1 starter Nick McCollum, a senior from Richmond Hill.

Belcher countered McCollum with Metter sophomore John Luke Glanton. Glanton gave up one run on two hits in the top of the first inning Saturday but retired 12 batters in a row. That streak ended with a one-out walk in the top of the fifth, but Glanton got out of it with the help of a Gabriel Wuerth-Mason Poole double play.

The game at that point was tied 1-1 as the Bobcats scored in the home third on Wuerth's two-out single plating Mitch Cowen. GCSU went ahead 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth as, all with two outs, catcher Rand Bestermann doubled and McNearney singled him home.

That lead flipped back to the visiting Hurricanes in the top of the seventh. Belcher changed pitchers with two on and two out, but the new hurler John Raines walked the bases loaded. GSW's Jake Blinstrub, with two strikes on him, pulled a two-run single to right.

In the top of the eighth, GCSU's infield combination of Wuerth and Poole turned their second double play helping keep the score 3-2.

The Bobcat half began with Bestermann's single and, by the book, McNearney's successful sacrifice. Belcher put Aiden Payne, freshman from Haddock, in to run for the catcher, and a long fly out by Wuerth allowed Payne to take third base.

So two bases are open with two outs as McCollum has surpassed 110 pitches and Bellflower and Mebane are both due up. GSW does not put anyone on, and Bellflower made them regret it. Mebane did the same, then McCollum was removed for what would be his first loss of 2024. These were also the first home runs he allowed this spring.

But the game was not over as, with one out in the top of the ninth, Raines walked two more to load the bases. Kenny entered the battle and induced a grounder to Poole. The second baseman had to hustle to beat the runner to the bag, and the ruling was he did. One run scored, and in the most unusual way for a game to end George Davis' line drive hit a teammate on the basepaths.

Game 2

Euson threw 112 pitches in eight innings, walked one, gave up five hits and struck out nine. Five Bobcats pitched in the nightcap, the last three giving up the six deciding runs.

Mason Brown started on the mound for the first time in 2024. He went just three innings without allowing a hit or a run, but walked two and hit three batters.

The Hurricanes scored once in the fourth on three hits but left the bases loaded. For the game, the Hurricanes left 11 runners on.

The Bobcats, though, couldn't get a runner past second base all game except one time. Mebane hit a two-out solo home run in the bottom of the sixth. This was Mebane's 12th of the season, which is tops in the PBC, and also the first allowed by Euson all year.

Things fell apart for the home team in the eighth, though, with Paul Hegeman's two-run home run. Cory Lee tripled and scored, then the Bobcats got out of the frame down 4-1.

But the ninth was worse as the Hurricanes ripped five hits to score three more. Lee earned two more RBI and Brant Dearman doubled in one.

Game 3

In between rainfall Sunday, a 2:45 baseball game got in at Kurtz Field. It was one that didn't start off well for the home team as GSW got two sacrifice flies from Canadian Noah Roberts and an RBI single from Davis to lead 3-0 after the top of the third.

GSW pitcher Andrew Geiger struck out four in the first two innings, and it looked like the third was going to end abruptly when Cowan was caught stealing for the second out. McNearney began his big day with a double (could have been an RBI), and he scored when Wuerth went deep.

The Hurricanes got those runs back the same way, Kalvin Alexander finding the scoreboard on a two-run blast in the top of the fourth. The Bobcats responded in their turn with freshman Braeden Smith's lead-off triple and Evan Cowan's RBI single.

Still down 5-3 in the bottom of the fifth, GCSU turned the game around with six runs, all of which scored with two outs showing. Bellflower was on second base when Smith singled, and there was a close play at home but the catcher did not hold on to the ball. Like Smith, Evan Cowan got his second straight hit, and it was another RBI tying the score 5-5.

GSW made a pitching change, but the Bobcats put five on base in a row. Mitch Cowan's single broke the tie, then with the bags full McNearney tripled to right.

Jacob Ryan started at pitcher for Belcher and went five innings to win for the fourth time. He struck out four and walked one while scattering seven hits. Bradley Wilson gave up one run on three hits in the sixth, but GSW once again left the bases loaded.

Kenny entered with a 9-6 lead, thus qualifying for a save. But that lead grew by two in the home seventh as the Bobcats got two sacrifice flies, one from Bellflower and the other from Smith. McNearney and Wuerth led off the inning with consecutive singles.