Fans of all ages made their way to Segra Park on Thursday to catch the Fireflies and GreenJackets play into extra innings. The teams will play two more games in the series on Friday and Saturday. (Photos by Jacob Phillips)

Baseball is back in Columbia after the Fireflies opened their season with a nail-biting 9-8 loss to the Augusta GreenJackets in extra innings.

Fans of all ages gathered Thursday at Segra Park for the first of 65 home games the team will host this season. 

Whether a forever fan or first-timer, people came together and enjoyed the atmosphere of being back in a ballpark. 

“I played baseball growing up,” Kansas native Justin Casteel said. “Being here just brings back memories.”

The Gamecocks’ baseball game vs. No. 1 LSU drew a large crowd away from Segra Park. And as a rainstorm came down before the first pitch, some were worried game one would start with a rain delay.

The crowd started small, but as the game got closer and the weather cleared, fans started flooding through the gates. 

One of the biggest draws was the Thirsty Thursday promotion the team has each Thursday. A soda costs $1, while draft beers are $2 and craft beers are $3. 

“We came for Thirsty Thursday,” Columbia resident Jason Bagwell said. “Just hanging out with friends is fun.”

The food and drinks are a big factor in making the experience at a Fireflies game, said Charlotte resident Tiffany Odams.

“The drinks for sure, and being outside during the summer and popcorn,” Odams said. “I can’t watch the game without my drink and snack.”

While adults enjoyed their beers and hotdogs, kids were off running around a series of inflatables or tossing the baseball around the grass hills by the outfield.

Fans feel going to a game is an experience the whole family can enjoy. 

“I wanted to come hang out with some family I haven’t seen in a while,” Columbia resident Nate Nicaedro said. “We all decided to come to the Fireflies game because we all have something.”

The Fireflies’ bats started cold, failing to register a hit until the third inning. Augusta jumped to a 1-0 lead after outfielder Jeremy Celedonio blasted a home run on a fly ball to left field. 

Columbia made first contact in the third, and from there, the bats started to connect. Shortstop Lizandro Rodriguez drove in the first two runs after a hit to right field. 

The Fireflies scored two more runs in the third inning to jump to a 4-1 lead. But it wouldn’t last.

Pitching from both sides held strong, allowing no runs until the sixth inning. But in the sixth, the GreenJackets recaptured the lead. 

Outfielder Ethan Workinger hit a two-run homer to start the inning and pull his team within one run. Two at-bats later, shortstop E.J. Exposito gave his team a one-run lead after drilling a line-drive double to center field. 

Augusta extended its lead in the eighth inning before Columbia fought its way back and tied the game with three runs in the bottom of the inning. 

Nobody scored in the ninth, so everyone in the crowd was given a little extra baseball.

“It’s always special opening night,” USC student Gillian Porter said. “It’s an exciting game, and I’m so happy to be here.”

Exposito gave the GreenJackets the lead with a line drive.  He later crossed home himself after outfielder Tyler Collins singled, giving Augusta a 9-7 lead before the inning was over. 

Columbia failed to score, ending the game.

Fans said they still enjoyed the experience, regardless of the outcome.  

“We just want to support the team,” Odams said. “My boyfriend is a Fly Guy, so I was excited to see him do his dance after the sixth inning.”

Augusta pitcher Elison Joseph was awarded the win after pitching two innings allowing no hits and only one run. Columbia pitcher David Sandlin started the game and went four innings, giving up five hits and one run. 

Exposito made contact with almost everything that came his way, finishing 3-4 in his at-bats. Third baseman Brett Squires had the best day for Columbia at the plate, going 2-4 and driving in two runs. 

The Fireflies will have a shot at revenge Friday night for game two of the series. Fans seemed eager to return. 

“I’ll be at a game every homestand,”  Odams said.

Third baseman Brennon McNair waits for the action as his pitcher winds up. He finished 1-4 at the plate after hitting a single in the eighth inning.

The Fireflies attempted to find creative ways to get players on base late in the game after the GreenJackets retook the lead in the sixth inning.

Jeremy Celedonio crosses the plate after hitting a solo home run in the second inning to record the game’s first hit. 

The Fireflies failed to register a hit in the 10th and final inning, costing them the first of three games in the series.

Fans took advantage of the Thirsty Thursday promotion by ordering discounted drinks all game long.

Fans said part of what attracts them to Fireflies games is the camaraderie they experience when seeing new and familiar faces.