The Georgia Southern baseball team ended their tenure in the Southern Conference in 2014 by winning the title. Since then the Eagles have managed to advance to three Sun Belt Championship games, and are now 0-3 as they lost to Coastal Carolina 9-7 in Sunday’s championship in Conway South Carolina.
The Eagles were hot out of the gates as they grabbed a 6-0 lead, but the Chanticleers went on to outscore the Eagles 9-1 from the fourth inning on, as they claimed their second straight Sun Belt tournament championship.
“I’m proud of our team, they’ve been a great group to coach,” said Eagle coach Rodney Hennon, fighting back tears. “You have to work so hard just to get to this spot, and to get this close and not be able to get over the hump is certainly a tough pill to swallow.”
The Eagles opened the scoring in the first on a two-out RBI single to left by Jason Swan to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
In the second Christian Avant scored from third on a wild pitch, and then the Eagle bats heated up. Nolan Tressler pinch hit for Mason McWhorter - who had to leave the game after being hit in the hand by a pitch in the first - and he’d deliver, launching a two-run opposite field home run to left for a 4-0 Eagle lead.
Tyler Martin then just missed a home run himself, doubling off the wall in left. That brought up Noah Ledford who hit a towering shot down the left field line. The two-run homer extended the Eagle lead to 6-0.
Eagle starting pitcher Seth Shuman shut the Coastal Carolina bats down through the first three innings, before giving up three runs in the top of the fourth, as the Chanticleers cut the lead to 6-3.
The Eagles got a run back in the bottom of the fourth on an RBI infield single by Ledford, but Tyler Martin was easily thrown out attempting to score from second base on the play, something coach Hennon felt could have been a game changing moment.
“I kind of kicked myself a little about that play,” Hennon said. “I should have put myself in a better position to help Tyler when he was rounding third, and tried to get him to hold up. Who knows what may have happened after that, but it’s a situation where I could have helped the team, and I made a mistake.
Coastal Carolina outscored the Eagles 6-0 from there. Kieton Rivers led the way with a pair of home runs and four RBIs. Scott McKeon added a home run himself and a pair of RBI’s as the Eagle bullpen struggled after Seth Shuman exited in the top of the fifth.
Coastal tied the game in the sixth on Rivers three run homer off of Hayden Harris, and then took an 8-7 lead on a double off the wall in center by Kyle Skeels off of Eagle reliever Daniel Collins.
While the Eagle bullpen struggled Coastal found success as the turned things over to lefty Scott Kobos in the sixth inning. Kobos went four innings, allowing only three hits, while striking out four.
The Eagles had the potential tying run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth. Noah Ledford walked with one out, and was relieved by pinch runner Chandler Davis. Jason Swan then struck out on a very questionable called strike three, and Austin Thompson ended the game by fouling out.
“I just told our kids they have nothing to hang their heads about,” Hennon said. “They have done everything I have asked, and the other coaches have asked from them all year long. This is one of the most unselfish group of kids I’ve had the honor to coach.”
Hennon also reflected on another reason Sunday’s loss was so difficult.
“We lost Jack Stallings this past year, and we wanted so bad to win this thing in his honor,” Hennon said. “You talk about the guy who really built Georgia Southern baseball. He poured 24 years into Georgia Southern baseball. We honored him with his name on our caps this year, but a win today would have really been special for that reason as well.”
Coastal earns the Sun Belt automatic bid to the NCAA regionals, and are currently 35-24-1. The Eagles end the season with a record of 35-24.