GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Paul Nitto's two-out, line drive single down the left field line in the bottom of the ninth inning scored Jordan Simpson from third base to give Furman a 6-5, comeback victory over USC Upstate in baseball action Wednesday afternoon at Latham Stadium.
Nitto's walk-off game winning hit, the third by Furman (6-2) this season, came on a 2-2 offering by Spartan reliever Chad Sobotka and completed the Paladins' comeback from a 5-0 deficit. Last year Furman trailed USC Upstate 6-0 at Latham Stadium before rallying for a 10-7 victory.
Simpson singled to lead off the Furman ninth and advanced to second on a Taylor Johnson two-out base hit that bounced into the grass approximately 20 feet to the third base side of the pitcher's mound. Sobotka gloved the ball, but his throw to first base went into Johnson, who jarred the glove off the hand of Spartan first baseman Trey Richardson, allowing Simpson to advance to third. Nitto followed with a eight-pitch at bat before ripping the last pitch of the game down the left field line out of the reach of a diving Tyler Lesch.
Trailing 5-0 after three innings, the Paladins' started their comeback with an unearned run in the fourth. Furman tied it an inning later, scoring four runs on three hits and an error. Will Muzika's RBI double scored Andrew MacLatchie to make it 5-2, and two batters later Johnson belted a three-run home run to left field off Spartan reliever Reid Noah to knot it at 5-5.
Furman loaded the bases with one out in the eighth before Upstate's Gaither Bumgardner rallied to get out of the jam by striking out Griffin Davis and Andrew MacLatchie.
Mauldin, S.C., senior Ben Carlson (2-0) pitched around errors in both the eighth and ninth innings to earn the victory, allowing only one hit while striking out three.
Sobotka (0-1) took the loss.
USC Upstate (5-2) was in control early on after striking for three runs in the second. Taking advantage of a Paladin error — the first of five in the game by Furman — the Spartans grabbed a 2-0 lead on Trey Richardson's third home run of the season, a two-run blast to left field. A sacrifice fly later in the inning made it 3-0.
The Spartans added two more unearned runs in the third, taking advantage of two hits and two more Paladin fielding miscues, to increase their advantage to 5-0.
From the fourth inning on, however, Furman relievers Ryan Morse, Alex Abrams, and Carlson combined to throw six innings of shutout ball, allowing only two hits and striking out seven.
Johnson paced Furman at the plate, going 2-for-4 with the three-run home run. Nitto, the Greenville native and former star at J.L. Mann High School, had two hits to extend his SoCon's longest current active streak to 16 games.
Jordan Stamper went 2-for-2 to lead USC Upstate, which collected nine hits in the contest.
Furman opens Southern Conference play this weekend when it travels to Elon to face the Phoenix in Friday's 4:00 p.m. series opener. Saturday's game is scheduled for 2:00, and first pitch for Sunday's finale is set for 1:30 p.m.
Photo Courtesy of Wayne Rickman