Stephen Duke, Correspondent
The JSU Gamecocks baseball team opened up conference play this past weekend against Eastern Illinois where the Gamecocks, who were the OVC preseason favorite, fell to the Panthers two games to one in a double-header on Saturday, March 7 and finale on Sunday, March 8.
The Gamecocks started out the series strong with a win over the Panthers on their first meetup on Saturday with a close 6-4 match. After the Panthers rallied to tie the game at 4-4, senior Tre Kirklin hit a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning which led to the Gamecocks taking the lead back at 5-4.
Junior Colin Casey pitched the first six innings, while senior Corley Woods pitched the last three. Woods threw a pair of strikeouts which led in part to the win.
Kirklin had three hits in the first game, along with a single off a bunt in the second game. Sophomore Carson Crowe added some breathing room in the ninth with a solo home run, which led to the 6-4 win.
Other Gamecocks who contributed to the first game win were Senior Chase Robinson, who had a double in the first game and reached base three times and Kirklin, Robinson and Tanner Anderson who all recorded multiple hits in the first game.
However, game two on Saturday did not go as well for the Gamecocks, as they fell 4-0 to the Panthers. In this game, the Panthers used a variety of tactics to get the win such as a pair of RBI singles with two outs.
Starter for the Panthers Blake Malatestinic recorded eight innings without allowing a point. Meanwhile, Ryan Ignoffo put the Panthers on the board when he hit a solo home run in the second inning. EIU added RBIs in the fourth, fifth, and eighth innings as well.
With the series being decided in game three, the Gamecocks lost in a very close 5-4 game on Sunday where the game went into 11 innings.
While the final match started out promising for the Gamecocks, the Panthers erased a 4-1 deficit and scored four unearned runs in the game. The Panthers then notched the game deciding point on a Gamecock throwing error on an infield with two outs in the inning. The Gamecocks ended with four errors on the day.
Throughout the last match, the Gamecocks gave the Panthers runs in the sixth inning on throwing errors and tied the game in the seventh inning. A mishandled ground ball led to the two runs crossing home plate. After a stalemate led to extra innings, the Panthers put up their game-winning run in the eleventh inning.
With the series loss, the Gamecocks record falls to 6-8 overall and 1-2 in the OVC on the season. The Gamecocks return home on Friday, March 13 for a game against Samford at 6 p.m. The Gamecocks then continue the series against Samford on Saturday, March 15 at 5 p.m. at the Hoover Met, with a series finale on Sunday, March 16 at 2 p.m. on the Samford campus. All games will be aired on ESPN+ and on the Gamecock Sports Network.