JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State opened its baseball season with big crowds at its new stadium, and the Gamecocks managed to send the fans home happy by taking two of three from traditional rival North Alabama.
But, don't blame the Gamecocks if they wished they had gotten that third victory, too. After winning Friday's opener, JSU and UNA split a Saturday doubleheader. The Gamecocks rallied in the first game to win 12-10 on Andrew Naismith's game-ending two-run homer.
In the second game, the Gamecocks couldn't solve the Lions' pitching well enough and fell 2-1. They left 11 runners on base, including at least one each in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
"You come into a weekend, you're looking to win a series, which we did," JSU coach Jim Case said. "You win the first two, there's a disappointment. Certainly, I thought there was some great things in Game 1. Obviously, we were behind a lot of the day. Fought back, didn't give up. So many good things. When you win that, you almost feel like there's going to be a carryover."
In the opener, JSU trailed 9-6 going into the bottom of the eighth inning, but Cole Frederick smashed a bases-loaded, two-out double to the gap in left-center field. That scored all three runners and tied it 9-9.
After North Alabama scored a run in the top of the inning, Alex Webb's single scored Isaac Alexander to tie it again, and Naismith followed with a 390-foot homer to centerfield to end it.
In the second game, ever JSU starter got on base at least once, but the Gamecocks didn't score until the eighth inning. Webb's sacrifice fly brought home Taylor Craven, but in the ninth inning, JSU couldn't get anyone past first base. Nic Gaddis' groundout ended it.
Even so, maybe the most eye-catching figure of the day was 1,126, which was the attendance on a cold, misty day at Rudy Abbott Field at Jim Case Stadium. That followed up the crowd of 1,112 from Friday.
Last year, JSU played all home games at Oxford's Choccolocco Park, and the best attendance was 543 against Tennessee-Martin. In 2016, the Gamecocks' last year on campus before rebuilding the stadium, the best attendance waas 621 on opening day against Valparaiso. Next was 481 against Western Kentucky.
"The attendance is really, really encouraging to me," Case said. "You're hoping with a new facility people will come, and they did. … Hopefully, they'll come back and the weather will be a little bit better."
What to know
—Center fielder Tre Kirklin, the leadoff hitter, got on base five times Saturday with two singles and three walks. A transfer from Chattahoochee Valley Community College, Kirklin also had two hits Friday.
—While the JSU pitchers struggled in the first game, allowing 13 hits and seven earned runs, they were better in the second game. Trey Fortner started and went five innings, allowing five hits, no walks and two runs. Tyler Wilburn and Christian Edwards followed with two shutout innings apiece.
—Webb, who played at Alabama and Chipola Community College, was 4-for-8 with two RBIs on the day.
—Naismith was 2-for-5 with two runs, two RBIs, a walk and the game-winning homer.
—Case on newcomers Webb and Kirklin: "Webb's got some experience from playing at Alabama so this is not his first Division I game. You kind of feel like he's got a little bit better feel. I thought Kirklin just had a great weekend. He was really good for us. That's good to see because we would love for him to solidify himself in that 1 hole. That would be big for us."
—Kirklin on his weekend: "I know my job as a leadoff hitter is to get on base and give my team the best opportunity to score runs, so that's what I try to do."
—Jacksonville State (2-1) will play Tuesday at Alabama at 3 p.m. The next home series is a three-game set March 1-3 against Florida International.