ATLANTA—Nic Wilson homered and drove in four runs and Caden Bailey added three RBI as Georgia State broke open a close game with a six-run eighth inning to earn a 12-5 victory over Kennesaw State Tuesday at the GSU Baseball Complex.


Georgia State won its fifth straight game to improve to 21-13 on the season, while the Kennesaw State Owls dropped to 18-16. The Panthers are 18-5 at home this season.


Freshman Josh Merrigan went 4-for-5 and scored three runs, and Chad Prain, the nation’s leading hitter, was 3-for-5 with two runs and two RBI, upping his batting average to .474. Four GSU relievers combined to limit the Owls to just two runs over the final 7-2/3 innings.


“That was a great team win. We hit well throughout the game, we played good defense, and our bullpen really did the job,” said GSU head coach Greg Frady.


With the score tied at 5-5, Georgia State scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning on a wild pitch by KSU reliever Jordan Hillyer (1-2). Greg Bowder slashed a one-out double down the right field line, moved to third on a wild pitch and then scored on another wild pitch as Merrigan struck out, his only at-bat tonight that did not result in a base hit.


Leading 6-5, the Panthers broke the game open with six runs in the eighth inning, all with two outs. Merrigan and Prain started the rally with back-to-back singles, and then Chase Raffield belted a double to the gap in right center to score both runners. After Scott Sarratt was intentionally walked, Bailey doubled home Sarratt. Then Wilson smashed his fourth homer of the season over the left field fence, giving the Panthers a 12-5 lead.


Georgia State fell behind early as Kennesaw State managed three runs in the first inning off starter Nick Squeglia, but the Panthers answered with two in the bottom of the inning. Merrigan led off the game with a double and scored on Prain’s double, and Bailey singled home Prain with two outs.


Squeglia got into trouble again in the second inning, allowing a leadoff single and a one-out walk, and he was lifted for left-handed reliever Ben Burns, who immediately induced an unconventional double play. With runners at first and second, Andy Almonte hit a ground ball to first baseman Matt Rose, who threw to second for one out. Prain took the throw at second, faked to first and threw out the lead runner, Alex Liquori, at third base after he rounded the bag.


“That double play was a really big part of the game because it killed their momentum completely,” said Frady. “Without it, they would have had first and third and they’re in good position to pick up another run or two.”


The Panthers took their first lead in the third inning, again behind Merrigan, Prain and Bailey. Merrigan led off the frame with a double and scored on a single by Prain, who scored on Bailey’s sacrifice fly that put GSU ahead, 4-3.


KSU regained the lead briefly with two runs in the top of the fifth, but Georgia State evened the score at 5-5 in the bottom of the inning as Wilson’s two-out single plated Raffield, who led off with a double.


Burns pitched 3-1/3 innings, allowing two runs on six hits while striking out two. Jerry Stuckey (2-1) earned the victory with 2-1/3 innings of scoreless relief in which he gave up one hit and one walk.


Connor Stanley pitched a scoreless eighth inning with two strikeouts, and Matt Rose closed out the game with a one-two-three ninth, fanning the final two batters.


The Panthers, who own the nation’s top team batting average, pounded out 15 hits and scored 12 runs off a Kennesaw State staff that entered the game with an ERA of 2.82.


“Their reputation is pitching, and our reputation this year is more about our offense," said Frady. "There was a lot of talk about their pitching matching up with our hitting, and I think our guys did their part tonight.


Jerry Stuckey, Connor Stanley and Matt Rose really gave us what we needed over the last half of the game. Kennesaw State has great pitching, but I thought our pitchers threw really well tonight.”


Georgia State now plays eight straight road games, beginning with a four-game series at New Orleans this weekend. The Panthers will play a return game at Kennesaw State next Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Stillwell Stadium.