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Six-Run Furman 12th Douses Elon, 10-4

Taylor Johnson
Taylor Johnson

ELON, N.C. -- Hunter Burton's two-out, RBI double in the top of the 12th inning scored Will Muzika and ignited a six-run rally that propelled Furman to a 10-4 victory over Elon in the Southern Conference baseball season opener for both teams Friday afternoon at Latham Park.

The win was the third for Furman (7-2, 1-0 SoCon) in its last four meetings with Elon (4-4, 0-1 SoCon), the SoCon coaches preseason No. 1 pick.

Burton, who had struggled in the field with two earlier errors, bounced back in a decisive way with the line drive double to right center field off Phoenix reliever Tyler Manez, which easily scored Muzika, who had also doubled with two outs.  The Paladins extended their 5-4 advantage by plating two runs on a dropped fly error, a two-run double by Jake Jones, and RBI double by Griffin Davis.

Ben Carlson retired the Phoenix in order in the 12th to nail down the victory for the Paladins and make a winner of Ryan Dittmar (2-0), who came on in relief in the 11th to strand two runners and send in the 4-4 game into the 12th inning.

The loss was charged to Manez, who was roughed up in the 12th, though only one of the three runs he surrendered was earned.

The Paladins took one-run leads in the ninth and in the 11th innings but could not hold either margin.

Furman went up 3-2 in the ninth after Taylor Johnson led off with a single and scored ahead of a Paul Nitto two-run home to left field.  The Paladins' bid to to extend their lead ended after Jones was thrown out a the plate following an Alex Abrams single to right field.

After Elon made it a 3-3 game with a run in the ninth, Johnson opened the 11th with a solo home run to left field to put Furman up 4-3.  The Paladins threatened to extend their advantage after Nitto walked and an Elon throwing error put runners at first and third with no outs, but a short fly ball and inning ending double play kept it a one-run contest.

The Phoenix knotted it at 4-4 in their half of the 11th, taking advantage of a Paladin error to get Anotonio Alvarez on base.  With one out Niko Fraser lined a pitch by Furman's Matt Solter into the left field corner for a double that scored Alvarez.  At that point Dittmar was summoned to replace Solter and got the Paladins out of the inning with a fly ball and strikeout of Ryan Kiinsella.

The extra inning drama contrasted with the game's first eight innings, as Furman starting pitcher Nate Smith and Elon starter Dylan Clark pitched effectively after both yielded single runs in the second.

Smith worked 7 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits, two runs, both earned, with a walk and five strikeouts.  Clark, meanwhile, exited after seven frames, yielding only four hits and an earned run.  He walked two and fanned four.

The Phoenix broke a 1-1 deadlock with an Alvarez solo home run off Smith in the seventh.  It remained 2-1 until the ninth when Nitto blasted an offering by Elon reliever Andrew MacDonald over the left field wall to give Furman a short-lived 3-2 lead.

Alex Abrams went 3-for-6 at the plate to lead Furman's 12-hit attack, but the Paladins' two, three, and four hitters of Burton, Johnson, and Nitto did the most damage offensively, collecting two hits apiece and going a combined 6-for-15 with four RBI and seven runs scored.

Nitto and Johnson's home runs were their second of the season, respectively.  Nitto also extended his his SoCon leading hitting streak to 17 games with a one-out double in the second inning.

Elon had 10 hits, including two each by Fraser, Joey Tomko, and Alvarez.