Bobcats returning to Kurtz Field for PBC finals

May 7—Rand Bestermann was Johnny Bench. Georgia College & State University used five pitchers in three games of the Peach Belt Conference Tournament held at home this weekend; Columbus State, on the other hand, used five pitchers in just one game Sunday. Milledgeville's Brandon Bellflower still has more college baseball games to play at John Kurtz Field.

GCSU, as the No. 2 seed of the Peach Belt Conference baseball tournament, took care of its business with three wins in a row over the weekend hosting three other conference rivals. No. 1 Lander, however, did not hold serve as host of the other Peach Belt pod with back-to-back losses. Therefore, it's the Bobcats of head coach Nolan Belcher who will host the best-of-three conference championship series beginning Thursday, and the opposition will either be Flagler College or defending champion Georgia Southwestern State.

After John Luke Glanton's complete-game shutout of Augusta University Friday, GCSU came back from two 2-0 deficits against Columbus State University both Saturday and Sunday. Belcher pulled out a not-so-secret weapon — but one little used so far in 2024 — in sophomore left-handed reliever Cade Tillman. On Saturday, Tillman gave up just one run on a home run in six innings as the Bobcats won 12-5.

Saturday was a tough one for Columbus State since its Friday game with North Georgia had a two-hour plus weather delay and didn't end until 11:40 p.m. The Cougars won that contest 5-2, but had bus issues trying to get from Macon to Milledgeville Saturday morning. That caused a delay in the starting time against GCSU.

Also on Saturday, Augusta eliminated North Georgia and Columbus State sent Augusta home. A rematch between Cougars and Bobcats took place on time Sunday, and the bat that swung things for the host team belonged to the No. 9 hitting catcher Bestermann. He hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the second inning giving GCSU the lead for good, then added another two-run blast over the left-field fence in the third inning.

The Bobcats won 11-5 as Jacob Ryan pitched six innings giving up all five runs, and then closer Lex Kenny, in his first outing of the weekend, shut down the Cougars over the last three frames.

Bestermann called it "crazy efficiency." He added it gave the hitting confidence knowing if they could just put up some runs and get a lead, those pitchers would protect it.

"We started a little slow on the pitching side, but those guys have gotten better," said Belcher about his mound staff. "They continue to work each and every day and improve ... which is what we always preach here. Glanton has been unbelievable. I don't believe I've seen a stretch that he's on right now.

"Tillman came up big behind Bradley Wilson. Very proud of our athletic training staff. Tillman was banged up most of the year. We made a decision early on to get him on a throwing program and build him up for moments like that. Tillman's super competitive. We have a lot of trust in him. He had an incredible year last year. When he's healthy and in big moments, that's the guy we want out there."

And having Kenny fresh for a close-out game was exactly how Belcher wanted it Sunday.

Bestermann displayed some power in the season-ended PBC series at North Georgia with three home runs. The season has been a struggle, only a .168 batting average, but Belcher said he knew the receiver had such games in him.

"I went up there with a two-strike approach, trying to see the ball, really just trying to put the ball in play (with runners on), but managed to find the barrel," said Bestermann. "That's a big question for me (what's got me hitting HRs lately). Some days I go up there seeing the ball well. When the offense is doing good around me, it helps me do good."

There wasn't one Bobcat at the plate, however, who anyone could say carried the offensive load. Mitch Cowan drove in four runs, one less than Bestermann, as the designated hitter Sunday and Mason Poole, at the No. 8 hole, went 3-for-3.

Columbus State is a .300 hitting team, and on Sunday it scored two runs in the top of the first. Cody Ferguson took Ryan deep for a leadoff home run and Seth Nelson's two-out singled plated one more.

Cowan and Poole were on base when Bestermann batted with two outs and cleared the fence near the left corner.

The Bobcats added six to the 3-2 lead in the bottom of the third on six hits. It started with Bellflower's single and Evan Cowan's one-out double. They scored on Mitch Cowan's first-pitch single to right. Cam McNearney, who missed two home runs by inches Saturday settling for doubles both times, dropped another double into centerfield. That set up a two-run single for Poole.

Bestermann sent a second baseball in the same direction nearly the same distance for a two-run shot and 9-2 advantage.

Ryan recorded 10 outs in row with three strikeouts before giving up an unearned run in the bottom of the fifth. His last inning was the sixth, and it included a two-run home run by Nelson bringing the lead down to four, 9-5.

Kenny had three strikeouts and allowed two hits in his three innings. The Cougars stranded two in scoring position in the eighth.

Mitch Cowan's two-out single with the bases loaded got the Bobcats' six-run cushion back at 11-5.

In Tillman's six innings Saturday, he scattered six hits and struck out five with one walk. It was his first win of the season (and college career) in only his fifth appearance, all since April 6.

The Bobcat offense came back from 2-0 and 4-2 deficits, and despite the travel issues the Cougars came out swinging hard in the first inning with two runs on four hits.

GCSU answered with two in the bottom half loading the bases and getting sacrifice flies from Matthew Mebane and Evan Cowan.

It was Columbus State filling the bags in the third inning and getting a scoring fly ball with a great catch from McNearney in centerfield. Andrew Rubin followed with an RBI hit to lead 4-2.

It was Mebane who finally got some carry from the baseball in the home third. He delivered a two-run tying home run, his team-leading 16th.

Still in the third, and with two outs and the bases cleared, Mitch Cowan singled, McNearney walked and Poole's hit broke the tie. The Bobcats not only led, but led for good and added more pulling off a double steal (6-4).

The hosts piled on runs in the fourth, two more touching home (8-4) as Freshman of the Year Braeden Smith doubled and Mitch Cowan had a sacrifice fly.

Tillman's only blemish on the line was Win Johns' 12th home run of the season leading off the top of the fifth. The Cougars had five more hits afterwards but left all runners on base.

In the bottom of the sixth, Bellflower, the left-handed hitter, went the opposite way for a leadoff home run, the 31st of his GCSU career. One of McNearney's near home runs turned into an RBI double later in the frame to make it 10-5.

Smith and Bellflower had consecutive doubles in a two-run seventh. Mebane added his team-high fourth RBI.

"We're excited, but it's one game at a time," said Belcher about being two wins away from a conference championship and potential NCAA Division II regional bid at 31-20. "One pitch, one inning at a time. We'll keep playing as long as we can and see what happens."