STATESBORO - With Georgia State needing a victory to earn a spot in the Sun Belt Conference Championships, Kendall Ford scored the winning run on an error in the top of the ninth inning and Hunter Gaddis struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth as the Panthers rallied for a 5-4 victory over Georgia Southern in Saturday's regular-season finale at J.I. Clements Stadium.
With the win, coupled with ULM's loss at Louisiana, Georgia State earned the 10th and final spot in the Sun Belt Championships, which begin Tuesday in Lafayette, La. The complete bracket will be announced later tonight.
Georgia State (26-28, 10-19) trailed 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Georgia Southern threatened to blow the game open, loading the bases with no outs. Senior Jansen Acton came on from the bullpen and struck out two in a row and then induced a fly ball to end the inning and keep the Panthers' deficit at one.
In the top of the eighth, senior Jack Thompson drew a one-out walk and Luke Leonard singled to put runners at first and second. Freshman Kalen Puckett followed with a single to right field, but Thompson was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second.
Then senior Romero Greer delivered a two-out single through the left side to plate Leonard with the tying run.
When the Eagles again loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, the Panthers turned to Gaddis, their Friday starter who pitched just four innings in Thursday's loss. The sophomore right-hander needed just three pitches to strike out designated hitter Tyler Martin.
Ford, another senior, reached base on an error to open the ninth inning and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Justin Jones. Georgia Southern intentionally walked Nick Gatewood, the Panthers' top hitter who homered earlier in the game, to put runners at first and second.
The runners moved up on a wild pitch, and With two outs, Jack Thompson's ground ball was bobbled by the third baseman, allowing Ford to race home with the go-ahead run.
Then Gaddis (9-4) struck out the Eagles in the ninth to preserve the win and pick up his ninth victory of the season, tying the Georgia State single-season record.
Jones, the senior shortstop, had two hits in the game to raise his career total to 234 and pass Josh Vandiver for sixth place in Georgia State history. His second hit was an RBI-single in the third inning that drove in Mike Huggins with the game's first run. Huggins also had two hits on the day.
After the Panthers added a run on an error in the fourth inning, Gatewood belted his team-leading 13th homer in the fifth with a solo blast to center that put Georgia State ahead 3-0.
Georgia Southern (29-24, 18-11) scored two runs in the fifth and then took a 4-3 lead with a pair of unearned runs in the sixth.
Georgia State starter Jordan Lee blanked the Eagles for four innings before allowing four runs but only two earned in five innings.