Young Nighthawks prevail in season-opening series

The University of North Georgia baseball team started the 2018 season by beating Florida Tech two out of three times after dropping the first game of the season at home.

The buildup to the 2018 season was filled with much excitement following a historic 2017 campaign, but the Nighthawks were unable to begin on the winning note by losing to Florida Tech 7-4.

“We put in a lot of work through the fall and the beginning of spring,” junior Chase Sudduth said. “I was liking what I was seeing, and it was fun to put it in action.”

Redshirt freshman Jake Howard slides in safely to give the Nighthawks their first run of the season off a William Mapes squeeze bunt in game one. (Photo by Jake Cantrell)

The Panthers of Florida Tech opened up the scoring for both teams’ courtesy of a solo home run by freshman infielder Pierson Reynolds in the top of the fifth inning. UNG was quick to respond, however, and scratched across a run of their own by a William Mapes squeeze bunt in the bottom half of the inning.

Florida Tech again took the lead in the top half of the sixth, but the resilient Nighthawks were able to even the score by way of a Conner Corbitt two-run home run in the bottom half of the sixth inning.

Shortly after giving up a two-run lead, Florida Tech scored two more runs to begin the seventh inning to give them a lead they would not relinquish. The Nighthawks were able to tally one more run, but the comeback attempt fell short as the Panthers opened up their season with a 7-4 victory over the nationally ranked North Georgia Nighthawks.

UNG was quick to recover from the home defeat, however, as they hosted Florida Tech in a doubleheader and grabbed two wins, giving the Nighthawks a series-victory to open up the season.

Runs came quickly for the Nighthawks in game two as freshman infielder Jake Arnold brought home Andres Perez in the bottom of the second inning to begin scoring. After the Nighthawks claimed a one-run lead, the Panthers were able to bring six runs home in the top half of the third. UNG once again mounted a comeback, tallying five runs in the bottom of the third to level the score line at six runs apiece.

“We had some guys step up and get some big hits,” head coach Tom Cantrell said. “They didn’t quit and got a little bit better.”

The determination of the Nighthawks would again prevail after giving up two runs in the top half of the fourth inning. North Georgia’s offense came alive in the bottom of the seventh scoring five runs, three coming off a home run by Sudduth.

Newcomer Chase Suddeth (center) celebrates after hitting his first home run as a Nighthawk in game two of the series. Suddeth transferred to UNG from Gordon State college. (Photo by Jake Cantrell)

“Nobody is going to give up, we can do anything at any time in the game,” Sudduth said. “That’s one thing we have over a lot of people.”

The five-run seventh provided enough padding for the Nighthawks to hold off another Florida Tech rally to claim game two by a score of 11-10.

After winning their first game of the season, North Georgia was able to win game three and the series by a score of 6-5.

UNG took another early lead by way of another Sudduth home run to bring across two runs in the bottom of the third. However, the Panthers quickly responded by scratching across a run of their own courtesy of a Daniel Szpik base hit.

Chase Sudduth rounds third base after hitting one of his two home runs in Saturday’s doubleheader. (Photo by Drew Hubbard)

Florida Tech was able to come back and take a 5-2 lead by way of a three-run home run off the bat of junior infielder Jacob Buser.

Once again, the Nighthawks refused to quit by tallying four runs of their own in the bottom half of the seventh inning. Three runs resulting from a dropped fly ball hit to deep right field by Sudduth which leveled out the score at five apiece. The final run would be brought in the next at-bat by a Steven Tomlinson single which gave UNG a lead they would not give up as North Georgia claimed game three by a score of 6-5, giving the Nighthawks the series victory.

Although UNG was able to take two out of three games at home, the Nighthawks defense suffered six errors in the series.

“We got a lot of work to do…. But it’s good to win a series,” Cantrell said. “We’re young, and we’re talented, we just got to get a lot better.”

The young Nighthawks will try to clean up some mistakes as Florida Southern College travels to Dahlonega for a weekend series at Bob Stein Stadium starting Friday.

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