Johnson Powers Furman Past Appalachian State, 6-5
GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Taylor Johnson went 2-for-4 and drove in four runs to power Furman past Appalachian State, 6-5, in Southern Conference baseball action Saturday afternoon at Latham Stadium.
Furman (12-3, 4-1 SoCon), which claimed a 3-1 win over Appalachian State (7-4, 2-3 SoCon) in Friday's series opener, has won five straight games and will go for the series sweep in Sunday's 1:00 p.m. finale. The start to the season is the program's best since 1926.
Johnson, a senior from Greer, S.C, stroked a two-run double in the third inning and added a two-run single in the seventh to extend a one-run lead into a 6-3 advantage.
Appalachian State cut it to 6-5 with two runs in the eighth against Furman's Matt Solter, but Solter retired the Mountaineers in order in the ninth to nail down the victory and record his fourth save.
Alex Abrams (2-0), who relieved Furman starter Elliott Warford after three innings due to illness, pitched 1 1/3 innings to earn the victory. He allowed a run on three hits and a walk while striking out two.
The loss was charged to Mountaineer starter Jeffrey Springs (0-2), who surrendered four runs on six hits and a walk. He recorded two strikeouts.
Appalachian State gave Springs a 1-0 lead with unearned run in the top of the first, but Furman used a four-run third to grab the advantage. Jordan Simpson led off with a single and stole second. After Hunter Burton walked, both runners advanced on a passed ball and scored on Johnson's double down the left field line. Paul Nitto followed with a single through the left side to drive in Johnson to make it 3-1 and later scored on a Jarrod Rickman sacrifice fly.
Nitto's base hit extended the Greenville native and J.L. Mann High School product's hitting streak to 23 games — the longest active streak in the SoCon.
The Mountaineers chipped away at the Furman advantage with a Noah Holmes RBI single in the fifth, but ASU's bid for more was short-circuited by Paladin reliever Drake Browne, who came on for Abrams to get William Head on a foul pop and Alex Leach on a strikeout to strand runners at second and third.
Appalachian State put its first two batters on base in the sixth against Browne but again failed to capitalize as Brown's replacement, sophomore left-hander Ryan Morse, got Preston Troutman to pop up a sacrifice attempt and then struck out Dillon Dobson looking before battling back from a 3-0 count to fan Josh Zumbrook swinging to end the inning.
ASU cut it to 4-3 in the seventh, but Furman responded in the bottom of the frame behind Johnson, who stroked a two-run single through a middle of a drawn-in infield to plate Hunter Burton and Simpson for a 6-3 lead.
Jaylin Davis' single in the Mountaineer eighth off Solter scored Will Calllaway to make it 6-4, and Davis later came home on a Zumbrook double into right center field.
Solter recovered to strike out Holmes to end the inning and preserved the one-run difference with a perfect ninth.
Johnson and Simpson had two hits apiece for the Paladins, who finished with 10 hits.
Will Callaway followed his three-hit performance in Friday's opener by going 3-for-4 with an RBI. Holmes and Dobson added two hits each in the Mountaineers' 11-hit attack.
ASU reliever Josh Wilson came on in relief of Springs in the third and retired 10 of the first 11 Paladins he faced before running into trouble in the decisive Furman seventh.
Furman senior catcher/first baseman Paul Nitto's 23-game hitting streak, which includes the final eight games of 2012 and 15 games this season, is tied for the fourth longest in school history with Adam Etherington (23 in 2001). The school record is 27 by Phil King, achieved over two seasons (1964-65).
Furman's 12-3 start is its best since 1926, when Furman went 13-2 in its first 15 games and defeated, among others, Clemson (twice), South Carolina (twice), Wake Forest, and N.C. State.
Paladin senior right fielder Taylor Johnson is 11-for-24 (.458) with three doubles and eight RBI in his last five games (5-0).
Paladin freshman second baseman Jordan Simpson has notched two-hit performances in four of the last six games (9x24, .375)