CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Greg Harrison belted a two-run, walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give Furman a 3-1 victory over Appalachian State in Southern Conference Baseball Tournament quarterfinal round action Thursday evening at Joseph P. Riley Park.
Harrison lined the first pitch he saw from Appalachian State reliever Taylor Thurber over the wall, to the right of the 345' marker in the left field corner, scoring Carter Grote, who had opened the bottom of the ninth with a walk.
Furman (26-31), the tournament's No. 8 seed, won a single elimination game over UNCG on Tuesday, 6-5 in 11 innings and beat tournament No. 1 seed Western Carolina, 3-2, on Wednesday in the first round of the double elimination tournament. In knocking off No. 5 seed Appalachian State (21-33), the Paladins will have Friday off before returning to the field on Saturday at 10:00 a.m. to face the winner of Friday's loser's bracket matchup between Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.
"There was a debate about bunting in that situation (in the ninth), but we felt like we had our three best hitters coming up and if we could get a ball in the gap we could score a run," said Furman head coach Ron Smith. "We didn't want to give up an out in that situation. We wanted to let him swing, and he got a pitch he could handle. I'm delighted for our players."
"Jeffrey Springs threw the ball really well for Appalachian State. He mixed three pitches very well and used his change up very effectively. Our guy, Tyler Wood was equally as good and made the big pitches when he had to. I'm just so proud of what he did. We couldn't have had a better guy win a game for us than Greg Harrison. He's been a clutch player for us all year long and no one plays the game harder. He really plays the game the right way, so we're very happy about this. We're excited to be moving on to Saturday."
Harrison's blast, the second walk-off home run by the Paladins in 2014, made a winner of Alex Abrams (8-2), who came on with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning to retire Ozzy Gonzalez on a line drive to left field.
Abrams got the call in relief of Paladin starter Tyler Wood, who pitched brilliantly for a career long 8 2/3 innings, scattering eight hits while striking out five and walking two. Wood appeared in position to earn the win in the ninth when, with two outs and two runners on, he induced Alex Leach to hit a weak grounder, but Paladin second baseman Jordan Simpson misplayed the ball for an error, allowing Leach to reach. Wood then walked Brian Bauk on five pitches to force in the game tying run, leading to Abrams getting the call from the bullpen.
Wood's performance was matched by Appalachian starting pitcher Jeffrey Springs, who handcuffed Furman for eight innings, allowing only two hits and one walk while striking out 11. The only run the Paladins could muster was unearned, and it came in the fourth inning when Hunter Burton laced a double down the left field line, stole third, and came home with two outs when Mountaineer third baseman misplayed a ground ball off the bat of Chris Ohmstede.
Wood was the beneficiary of some superb defense, in particular right fielder Heath Burton, whose third inning, one-out full extension catch on Preston Troutman's line drive into right center field kept Gonzalez at first base. Michael Pierson followed with a double to put runners at second and third, but Wood got out of it by retiring Tyler Zupic on a ground ball to third base.
In the fifth Burton saved the Paladins again by retiring Gonzalez on a fly to right field and throwing a strike to third base to nail Bauk, who was attempting to advance on the play.
In the ninth Harrison took a late throw at first base on Dillon Dobson's, one-out infield single but fired a laser to Chris Ohmstede at third base to nail Zupic, who attempted to move from first to third on the play. The Paladins closed the top of the ninth with a diving catch by Grote in left field on a Gonzalez line drvie.
Furman managed only three hits in the contest: Burton's lead off double in the fourth, an Abrams single in the seventh, and Harrison's two-run home run in the ninth.
Zupic and Pierson had two hits apiece to lead Appalachian State.