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Southern Conference champions

Eagle baseball brings home 6th and final SoCon title


May 28, 2014

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    Southern Conference champions.
    When Georgia Southern entered the SoCon in 1993, the football team promptly brought home a conference title. Sunday, Eagle baseball won the last possible Southern Conference championship before Georgia Southern leaves for the Sun Belt in 2014.
    Southern entered the 2014 SoCon baseball tournament as the No. 4 seed, and things didn’t get off to the start the Eagles had hoped for. Wednesday, fifth-seeded Appalachian State forced extra innings in the first round after the Eagles took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning. The Mountaineers won 3-2 on a solo home run in the 11th inning, sending Georgia Southern into the loser’s bracket. The Eagles needed to win five-straight elimination games over the next four days to bring home the program’s sixth SoCon title — and that’s just what they did.
    First-seeded Western Carolina fell to No. 8 Furman in its first-round game, which matched up the Eagles with the Catamounts in a loser-go-home game on Thursday. Southern scored seven runs from the sixth to the eighth inning and stayed alive with an 8-4 win. The win over GSU coach Rodney Hennon’s alma mater set up another matchup with Appalachian State on Friday after the Mountaineers fell to Furman, and this time, the loser’s season would be over.
    Outfielder Stryker Brown’s fourth-inning two-run home run was all the offense the Eagles needed, as Southern held on for a 2-1 win. The Mountaineers got the tying run into scoring position in the ninth but could not complete another comeback against the Eagles.
    Georgia Southern had to beat Furman twice on Saturday to advance to the championship game. The Eagles scored six runs in the first inning of the first game Saturday morning to get things off to a great start. They tacked on two in the second and one more in the third to take a 9-2 lead after three innings. The Eagles led 11-3 after the seventh, but the Paladins made things interesting when they scored four in the eighth and one more in the top of the ninth. However, Southern held on for an 11-8 win and forced a second game Saturday evening.
    In their second matchup of the day against the Paladins, the Eagles took an early 4-0 lead and held a seemingly commanding 7-1 advantage at the seventh-inning stretch, but the bullpen could not hold the lead. Furman pushed three runs across in the bottom of the seventh and plated three more in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie the game at seven and send it to extra innings.
    Southern went on to score three runs in the top of the 12th, sending them to the program’s 11th SoCon championship game appearance. The Eagles would play Samford for all the marbles for the third time in the last four years. The two teams split their first two title-game meetings.
    Samford touched up Eagle starting pitcher Josh Wirsu for three runs in the first two innings and held a 3-0 lead for most of Sunday afternoon, but the Eagles finally got to Bulldog starter Alex Ledford in the seventh for two runs. It was nail-biting time in Charleston, S.C.
    Georgia Southern's Aaron Mizell led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, and Stryker Brown followed with a walk. With the tying and winning runs on base, Samford closer Andres Gracia balked them both into scoring position. After a pop-up and intentional walk, Eagle third baseman Garrett Chapman singled to left to tie the game and set up catcher Chase Griffin with an opportunity to win it — and he did just that. Griffin singled to right to score Brown, and the Eagles dog-piled Griffin in shallow right field as he rounded first base.
    The 2014 title is Georgia Southern baseball’s sixth Southern Conference championship and earns the Eagles the SoCon’s automatic bid to an NCAA Regional appearance.
    Southern will play in the Tallahassee Regional as the No. 4 seed. The Eagles play Friday against first-seeded Florida State at 6 p.m. (ESPN3). Also on Friday, second-seeded Alabama will face No. 3 Kennesaw State in the double-elimination regional.
    The winner of each of the 16 regionals will advance to the superregional in a best-of-three format, with a trip to Omaha, Neb., and the College World Series on the line.
    GATA in Tallahassee, Eagles!

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