There was some debate among some schools around the country regarding why Georgia Southern University received an NCAA Baseball Regional bid, with many eyes focusing on Statesboro last weekend to see how GS would do as host of the first regional in school history.
Despite a spate of bad weather, Eagles Athletics Director Jared Benko believes the host school and the host city showed why they merited the bid, including selling out all tickets for the event.
“This has been a total team effort,” Benko said. “Everyone showed up for us to be able to host such a special event. The crowds were all great, but especially the record-breaking crowd against Notre Dame. That was as electric of an atmosphere than I have been around for a long time.”
Notre Dame ended up winning the regional, going undefeated in the four-team event, that also included Georgia Southern, Texas Tech and UNC-Greensboro.
The coaches and players on hand to play in the regional spoke about how well the Eagles did hosting for the first time.
“We played in Starkville (Mississippi) last year and this was right up there as far as fan involvement,” said Notre Dame infielder Zack Prajzner. “We heard a lot about this place and the Clements Crazies and it definitely lived up to its reputation. The fans were loud and it was an electric atmosphere to play in.”
“Statesboro is a beautiful place and you have a lot to be proud of here,” said Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock. “The stadium is really something to be proud of. I really liked where the fans are in relation to the stadium and pretty much everything about this stadium. I think it’s a cool place to play and I think everyone that is running the event has done a wonderful job. It has been first class all the way.”
Benko said he had a lot of people to thank for helping to put on the event, from the university president all the way to the custodial staff.
“It takes a village to put on an event like this,” Benko said. “From the vendors in town to the staff, to the coaches, the people on campus. It took everyone banding together to pull this off and that is what is so special about the Statesboro and Georgia Southern community — they work together and no one is out to get the glory for it.”
Benko gave a lot of the credit to GSU president Dr. Kyle Marrero.
“He really rallied the troops on campus this week,” Benko said. “When you have a president who understands how important this event was, it is great. He understands how something like this can help drive enrollment and it’s crucial for success that leadership is on the same page.”
The blue-collar mentality of the hosts and doubts from others about whether Statesboro should host a regional only fueled the fire of those involved to make sure all questions were answered.
“You always want to prove something to people,” Benko said. “I think a lot of us have a chip on our shoulder to show that Statesboro and Georgia Southern don’t take a backseat to anyone. Hosting this weekend was more affirmation that not only can we host a high-profile event for the NCAA, but we can be one of the best hosts in the country. That turns to why not us when it comes to other events in other sports.”
Benko and assistant AD Chris Davis got plenty of first-hand feedback as they shuttled fans back and forth from their cars to the ballpark in golf carts, but also received great reviews from the NCAA.
“Feedback has been resoundingly positive,” Benko said. “You can always improve on things and I feel like we learned some things this year that we could use next year. Each site representative has to go back and report how things went. We got feedback from the NCAA saying how well run it was and how impressed they were how everyone busted their rear ends in order to help. I have been plenty of places and that is not always the case.”
Benko is not only proud of what the university accomplished this past week, he thinks even bigger things are on the horizon.
“I think when you reflect back on the past week, the first takeaway is what an incredible event it was,” he said. “Secondly, that a lot of people put individual concerns aside and worked together as a team putting Georgia Southern first. That speaks to our brand and where I see this place going in the future.
“The trajectory of this city and this university is on the rise,” Benk said. “We have had one of the, if not the best springs as far as athletics in school history. We are hoping that will carry into the fall. It is a tremendous way to cap off the 2021-22 season. But make no mistake, this is not a flash in the pan — we are building this thing for longevity and sustained success across all 17 sports. This weekend was another example of the community rallying behind us and we have the best fans in the country.”