College Baseball: O'Neal belts decisive grand slam in Texas State's 4-2 win
By JOE VOZZELLI
Daily Record Sports
Austin O’Neal’s baseball life goes at-bat by at-bat right now.
So when he stepped in for Tannner Hill in the bottom of the sixth inning, the senior knew what was expected of him.
O’Neal did that — and more — by launching a towering fly ball that rode the jet stream in left field for a pinch-hit, two-out grand slam. O’Neal’s home run, which broke his team’s 0-for-8 spell with runners in scoring position Saturday, gave the Bobcats the lead for good as they went on to beat Georgia State 4-2 inside Bobcat Ballpark.
“The game was won in the sixth inning,” Texas State head coach Ty Harrington said. “They loaded the bases with nobody out and we minimized it to one run. The game could’ve been lost right there. Austin came in with a big swing. That got the momentum in our dugout.”
With the victory, the Bobcats improved to 21-17 overall and 10-7 in the Sun Belt Conference.
Before Saturday’s slam, O’Neal had one at-bat since he started against UL-Monroe last Sunday. On an 1-0 count, the senior pounced on a fastball from Panthers starter Nathan Bates. GSU left fielder Chris Triplett backed up to the wall as the ball sailed over the net in left-center.
“I was thinking, ‘Don’t get jammed,’” O’Neal said of his pinch-hit at-bat. “I went up there trying to find a pitch to jump on. He elevated a fastball and I drove it.”
While Texas State scored runs in bunches the night before, the offense struggled to bring runners home as Harrington’s team stranded five over the first five innings of Saturday’s contest. In the sixth inning, two of the stars from Friday night — Garrett Mattlage and Granger Studdard — both flew out to start the frame. Then, Cory Geisler walked, Ben McElroy singled and Bates struck Tyler Pearson’s left shoulder with a pitch on an 1-2 count.
Harrington turned to O’Neal over Hill, who was 1-for-2 with a double, and the rest was history.
“That’s the crazy thing about baseball,” McElroy said. “We end up winning 4-2 and it’s all off one hit. Sometimes, that one hit goes against you but today it was in our favor.”
The happiest man in the dugout after O’Neal’s slam might have been Taylor Black, who pitched out of jams all game but kept the Bobcats within striking distance during his six innings on the mound.
“His fastball command got better as the game went on,” Harrington said of Black, who improved to 3-4 on the season. “He minimized two situations that could have been much bigger for them. He showed a little bit of maturity in doing that.”
Black might not have picked up his third win of the season Saturday if he didn’t pitch out of a bases-loaded situation in the top of the sixth. The redshirt junior didn’t help his cause when he fielded a bunt off the bat of Caden Bailey.
Black thought about throwing to third. After double pumping to third base and struggling to get a grip on the baseball, Black decided too late to throw to first base and everyone was safe. With the bases full of Panthers, Black struck out the next batter (Triplett) and limited the damage to one run after a pop out to Mattlage and a fielder’s choice.
Three innings later, Hunter Lemke closed out Harrington’s 498th career win at Texas State with a 1-2-3 ninth inning. Lemke set a milestone with his record-tying 15th save as a Bobcat.
“It means something to Hunt” Harrington said. “He was disappointed in his past couple performances. Jeremy (Fikac) was emphatic about sending him out there. He’s (Lemke) our guy”
Texas State will look to sweep GSU when the teams face off Sunday at 1 p.m.