Matt Yogus-042511Listen to Statesboro Herald sports editor Matt Yogus read his take on GSU baseball.
Technically, Georgia Southern is still a half-game behind Elon in the Southern Conference standings.
But a technicality didn’t stop the Eagles from taking first place in the loss column and in SoCon winning percentage by taking two of three from the Phoenix over the weekend. Elon’s just played three more games and has two more wins, that’s all.
Basically, that means for a SoCon regular-season championship, the only team with its destiny completely in its own hands is GSU.
But mid-week struggles and a few too many games like the one that happened on Sunday have put the Eagles slightly behind the eight ball on the national picture.
If you’re going to use the 40-win threshold as the basis for predicting an at-large bid to the NCAA postseason, Georgia Southern still has a lot of work to do and not a whole lot of time to get it done.
The Eagles have won 24 games so far this season, and there’s only 15 left. I’m no mathematician, but it looks like 40 regular-season wins isn’t happening.
Southern Conference tournament wins still count, so that gives GSU at least two more chances at another win or five.
So, what needs to happen?
No. 1 — Step it up in the mid-week (and not just when you’re playing the No. 1 team in the nation).
Since beating the then-number-one-ranked Florida Gators all the way back on March 8, the Eagles have gone just 2-5 in mid-week games. The losses came to Georgia Tech (twice), Jacksonville, Mercer and North Florida.
That’s not exactly a non-conference resume that ignites confidence in the NCAA selection committee, especially when the final scores are taken into account. The remaining mid-week games are against Kennesaw State and two against Charleston Southern.
The biggest problem outside of weekend games has been pitching. It’s not that GSU doesn’t have pitching, it’s that there are currently only two clear-cut starters — Chris Beck and Andy Moye. Josh Adams, Justin Hess, Jared Leverett and Will Middour just haven’t reached out and taken the remaining jobs.
No. 2 — Calm down at the plate.
Georgia Southern has been so good offensively all season long that it hasn’t often cost them when they’ve stranded runners in scoring position. But it happens a lot.
The Eagles have a lot of confidence at the plate, and they should. They’re the only team in the league collectively batting over .300 (.305), and they’re also in the top three in slugging, on-base percentage, runs, hits, RBIs, doubles, home runs, total bases, at-bats and sacrifice bunts.
But sometimes confidence turns into overconfidence.
The Eagles have had much more success this season when they’ve let the game come to them rather than trying to force things. They’ve played infinitely better with the lead this season (who doesn’t?), but let’s face it, you’re not always going to be playing with a lead.
Georgia Southern has a complete baseball team.
One through five in the batting order is as dangerous as anyone in the country. The team really shines when the bottom of the order is producing and sending it back around to the top, and got a bit deeper when Scooter Williams returned from injury to make a brief appearance in Sunday’s loss.
Beck and Moye will always give the team a chance to win, and the other starters have been at their best when they’ve been able to sink into a specific role.
Oh, and speaking of specific roles, closer Matt Murray is also as good as anybody in the conference. Can’t believe I hadn’t mentioned him yet.
Anyway, the final leg of the season is about to get underway. Georgia Southern has made it awfully difficult on itself if it wants to get in position for an at-large bid.
Winning the conference tournament would certainly take the drama out and make things a whole lot easier, but with — at the very least — 17 games remaining in the 2011 season, an at-large bid is still within reach.
All they’ll have to do is become the hottest team in the country during the next four weeks.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.