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Eagles seek 3-peat

GSU opens play in SoCon tournament

Eagles seek 3-peat

Eagles seek 3-peat

Three-time Southern Conference Pitche...

    There’s really only one option for senior pitcher Sarah Purvis and the Georgia Southern Eagles this week — winning the Southern Conference softball tournament for the third time in a row.
    “It has to happen. It’s my last year. It has to happen,” said Purvis, who was named Southern Conference Pitcher of the Year for a remarkable third season in a row.
    The top-seeded Eagles (33-19, 15-6 SoCon) face No. 8 seed Elon (24-27-1, 6-15) to open the tournament today at 3 p.m., in Greensboro, N.C.
    Winning may be the only option, but it won’t be easy.
    “Basically, the whole conference is scrappy,” Purvis said. “Nobody’s going to back down. You’re number one, they plan on beating you, and that’s the way this whole season was.”
    The Eagles lost the final series of the season at Samford, getting swept in Saturday’s doubleheader before taking the final regular season game on Sunday, 7-4 in eight innings.
    “Saturday was tough,” Purvis said. “I talked to the team, and we pretty much agreed on not losing another game. Sunday was another win, and that’s going to carry that into the tournament. We don’t plan on losing.”
    Joining Purvis with yearly SoCon honors are Coach of the Year Annie Smith, who has led the Eagles to SoCon titles in each of her first two seasons, and Freshman of the Year Taylor Rogers, a leadoff hitter who came on midway through the season. Leading off the lineup is a lot of pressure, but Rogers, who leads GSU with a .387 batting average, doesn’t let it get to her.
    “I put more pressure from myself than anything,” Rogers said. “I know that I need to do my job and get the team going. I feel a little bit of pressure, but it’s mostly from myself.”
    Rogers also joined Purvis and shortstop Kortny Thomas with First-Team All-SoCon honors, all of which came as a surprise to her. She just learned of her awards as the Eagles were boarding the bus to Greensboro.
    “Coach just told me and I was like, ‘Wait, what? Repeat that?’ I didn’t expect it all but I’m so thankful,” Rogers said. “I’m still in shock that I got it.”
    Smith looks at the Coach of the Year award as a team award, too.
    “Coach of the year is just because the team won a lot of games,” Smith said. “It’s an award for the players, not me. It’s a credit to them.”
    Winning a third consecutive Southern Conference championship is a daunting task. Only Chattanooga has done it before — the Mocs won eight of nine titles from 1996-2004 (GSU won it in 1999) — and Smith is trying her best to keep the thought of a three-peat out of the players’ minds.
    “A lot of things happen and you can’t control them, and it’s stressful because everyone talks about it, except for me, and I’d prefer if we didn’t,” Smith said. “But with winning comes responsibility. I think we’ve embraced that, and winning two regular-season championships in three years is a pretty big deal. I think winning the regular season is tougher than the tournament, and that’s a testament to what the juniors and seniors have done..”
    The tournament, Smith said, is up for grabs.
    “It’s nice being the No. 1 seed going in,” she said, “but everyone’s 0-0.”

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-4908.

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