Throughout the season, the Nighthawks made a habit of burying their opposition under a colossal mountain of runs, but in the first Division II playoff game in the university’s history, they got a taste of their own medicine. North Georgia lost to the West Chester Golden Rams, 9-4 in Grand Prairie, Texas.
The Golden Rams were the ones doing the burying, thanks to a four-run third inning and a five-run seventh inning. The UNG offense that finished the season in the top five in the division in nearly every offensive stat, including first in runs scored, was unable to match the opposing offensive output.
“Now we’ll regroup. That’s the thing about what’s going on here,” Nighthawks head coach Tom Cantrell said. “We’ve got to lose one more time before we’re eliminated. I think our team will regroup, we’ve been strong all year in that regard, to have the resiliency to bounce back. You can’t do anything about what’s happened, all you can do now is move on.”
“I think we came just out flat,” North Georgia shortstop Connor Hoover said. “Coach has been telling us not to just be happy that we’re here and to try and keep winning, and I think that’s what we need to come away with today. We made a couple mistakes and it just didn’t fall our way today.”
The vaunted Nighthawks offense wasted no time. After getting two runners on base in the first inning, West Chester center fielder Nick Bateman made a great diving play in shallow center field to rob them of any chance of scoring.
After his defensive thievery, Bateman gave the Nighthawks back the run he stole earlier when he misread a fly ball and the ball bounced over his head. An RBI groundout by catcher Andres Perez and an RBI single by Connor Hoover pushed the Nighthawks’ lead to 3-0.
North Georgia pitcher Daniel McCrary cruised through the first two innings without allowing a runner, but he ran into some trouble in the third. An error by Hoover, a walk, and a hit by pitch loaded the bases for West Chester first baseman Jared Melone, who followed by crushing a long grand slam over the left field wall to give the Golden Rams a 4-3 lead.
While McCrary pitched well early and struggled as the game progressed, West Chester starting pitcher Jon Fisher was just the opposite. After allowing five hits and three runs in the first two innings, he held the Nighthawks scoreless after the second inning and didn’t allow any of the final 13 batters he faced get on base.
“You have to give credit to them and Fisher,” Cantrell said. “He hung in there and battled real hard. We had him on the ropes for the first three innings we had his pitch count up [to] 77… You have to give Fisher credit.”
The score didn’t change again until the bottom of the seventh inning, which was disastrous for the Nighthawks. The Golden Rams scored five runs on six hits. North Georgia needed two pitching changes and had to face 12 batters before the inning ended.
West Chester closer Josh McClain replaced Fisher in the ninth inning and struggled to maintain command of his pitches. He walked three batters, including one with the bases loaded. That one run scored would be it for the Nighthawks.
The Nighthawks will play the Delta State University Statesmen on Monday, May 29, at 4 p.m. EST. The loser of that game will be eliminated from the playoffs.