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Eagles face No. 1

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Eagles face No. 1

Florida Gators starting pitcher Karsten Whitson throws against No. 24 Miami in Gainesville, Fla., Sunday. The Gators won the final game 5-3 to sweep the three-game series against the Hurricanes. Georgia Southern faces No. 1 Florida today at 7 p.m.

    As if hosting a three-game series against defending Big East champion St. John’s wasn’t enough of a challenge, Georgia Southern has to go on the road to face the No. 1 team in the nation.
    The Eagles face Florida today for a single midweek game at 7 p.m. at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
    With new faces permeating the infield and the weekend rotation, it’s been a tough stretch for the Eagles (7-5), who dropped two of three to the Red Storm over the weekend.
    “Sure it’s tough, but we need to get tougher,” said GSU coach Rodney Hennon. “We need to toughen up as a baseball team, and that’s why we’ve got St. John’s on the schedule and that’s why we’re going to Florida. I want to see how we respond. You don’t get prepared for what’s in front of you in your conference and down the road in the tournament loading up with a bunch of cupcakes. This is arguably one of the toughest stretches on our schedule, and I look at that as a great opportunity for us to get better and find out a lot about out baseball team.”
    Chris Beck (1-0, 2.12 ERA, 17 IP, 22 K, 7 BB) will get the start, but Hennon only expects to throw him for an inning or two before digging into the bullpen.
    The Eagles used 11 pitchers in the St. John’s series, and were out-scored 24-10 in the series.
    “I felt like that may be the best team offensively we’ve played up until this point,” said Hennon. “I think they took a good approach, but we’ve got to clean up our defense.”
    Shortstop Eric Phillips played the designated hitter role in the series after suffering an injury in a three-game sweep over North Carolina Central, and the Eagles used several different players in the middle infield. Phillips is still listed as day-to-day.
    “In the big picture,” Hennon said, “we will have learned a lot from the weekend because of some of the things we were forced to do. Every experience, especially for these young guys, is a learning experience. Those can be tough on these young guys.”
    Florida (10-1) is coming off a three-game sweep of then-No. 24 Miami. The Gators boast a team ERA of 1.91, compared to GSU’s 4.00 ERA, and have allowed no more than five runs in any game.
    No. 5 Florida State handed the Gators their only loss so far on the season — a 5-3 decision on March 1.
    “It’s a great opportunity for us,” Hennon said about UF. “They’re probably as deep and talented as anybody in the country and we’ve got to make a lot of improvements. We’ve got to play better baseball than we did over the weekend. We’ve got nothing to lose in a game like this. Go down there, play aggressive, sound baseball and if we do that, we’ll have an opportunity.”

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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