ATLANTA- Senior Carter Sackett led Georgia State with three hits at the plate but the Panthers dropped a 5-3 decision to George Mason Friday night at the Field at Panthersville to even the teams' Colonial Athletic Association series at one game apiece.
The Panthers (36-19, 16-13 CAA) must now win Saturday's regular season finale over the Patriots (21-31-1, 7-22 CAA) to control their own destiny in clinching a spot in the four-team CAA Tournament, played next week in Wilmington, N.C.
Georgia State senior Aidan Francis kept the game tight Friday by tossing three excellent innings in relief of starter Charley Olson (5-5) and two GSU relievers, striking out six batters. However, GSU lost an early 3-0 lead and stranded seven runners on base in the defeat.
"Aidan did a great job of keeping them at bay," head coach Greg Frady said. "Too much was lost in the first half of the game."
The Panthers climbed in front for the second time in the series, scoring one run in the first inning and two more in the third.
Mark Micowski drew a leadoff walk to start the game, then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Shane Hammond. Rob Lind then belted an RBI single into center field to score Micowski and give the Panthers an early 1-0 advantage in the first inning.
In the third inning, Micowski began the charge again with another leadoff walk. Hammond then singled to give the Panthers runners on the corners with nobody out. Lind drove Micowski home for the second time in the game by reaching on a fielder's choice, making the score 2-0. Later in the inning with Lind at second and two outs, Ryan Fleming snuck one through the legs of Mason second baseman Christopher Cook into right field for a two-out error that scored Lind to make it 3-0 GSU.
George Mason answered with two runs in the top of the fourth inning to cut the Panther lead to one.
Later, with one Patriot runner on first base in the sixth inning, Nick Allen's sharp liner was lost in the setting sun by Georgia State left fielder Aaron Schmitz, allowing Mason to put runners on second and third with nobody out. Jeremy Gazerro then entered in relief of Olson, but the Patriots would push both runners home on Cook's two-run single to take a 4-3 lead. A bases loaded walk later in the inning scored Mason's fifth run of the game.
Francis then entered in the seventh inning and kept the Panthers within striking distance by retiring nine of the ten batters he faced over three innings, including fanning six Patriots in the process.
Meanwhile, GSU could only muster one hit through three innings off Mason reliever Chris O'Grady as the score remained 5-3 into the ninth inning.
In the final frame, the Panthers put their first two batters on base as Sackett singled and Theo Asher was hit by a pitch. But after a Schmitz sacrifice bunt moved the runners over, Bryan Condotta struck out and Micowski popped out in the infield to end the game.
Olson took the loss for the Panthers, allowing four runs on nine hits over five innings, striking out three while walking two.
With one game remaining in the regular season, Georgia State can clinch their third straight trip to the CAA Tournament with a game three win against the Patriots on Saturday.
It will be Senior Day for the Panthers' 15 standout seniors, playing their final home game at the Field at Panthersville. Senior Day ceremonies will begin at 12:30 p.m., with first pitch slated for 1 p.m.
Junior Justin Malone, who boasts a 12-2 career record and owns seven victories this season, will take the mound in Saturday's crucial season finale. He has been defeated just once in 13 starts this season.