The good news Saturday night is the Georgia Southern Eagles set an attendance record in their NCAA regional matchup against Notre Dame with 3,533. The bad news is the Eagles lost the game to the Irish falling into the losers’ bracket in a 6-4 decision and will play Texas Tech Sunday at 2:00.
Eagle coach Rodney Hennon was having to juggle his pitching lineup all night long after Hayden Harris was a late scratch after experiencing issues while warming up. With the Eagles lacking a consistent second starter many games have been a bullpen by committee. Harris’ scratch had Hennon and pitching coach A.J. Battisto scrambling to fill in the gaps. Ben Johnson ended up getting the start and went 3 and 2/3 innings giving up two runs. Thomas Higgins and Jake Martin got the Eagles to the sixth at 4-2 when Jay Thompson took over.
Thompson was an All-Conference pitcher and the Eagles top reliver during the season. Thompson got roughed up Saturday night though, giving up two runs in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game at 4-4. The struggles continued in the seventh as he left with the bases loaded and two out. Hennon opted to go with Jaylen Paden in only his second relief appearance of the season. Paden would hit the next two batters forcing in two runs as the Eagles fell behind 6-4.
“They are pretty right-handed heavy and we felt like some velocity there would work,” said Hennon. “We just didn’t execute tonight. We had a four pitch walk and a couple hit batsmen. You can’t do that especially against a good team because it will come back to bite you.”
After no home runs in the first three games of the Regionals the Eagles and Irish launched four in Saturday night’s contest. Noah Ledford hit a bomb to right to start the scoring for a 1-0 Eagle advantage but the Irish hit the next two homers and grabbed a 2-1 lead in the fourth.
The Eagles came back to score three runs in the top of the sixth to grab a 4-2 lead. Noah Ledford (3-4) started things off with a 1-out single to right. Austin Thompson walked and then Sam Blancato (2-3) sent a flare to right driving Ledford home and tying the game at 2-2. Later with the bases loaded Kyler Hultgren singled to right driving in Blancato and Austin Thompson. It looked like the Eagles may add to their total as Jesse Sherrill ripped a pitch up the middle but Irish shortstop Zack Prajzner made a nice diving grab and flipped to second for the third out.
The Eagles threatened again in the top of the eighth putting runners on first and third with no out. The Irish went to the bullpen and brought in freshman lefthander Jack Findlay who promptly struck out Hultgren and Sherrill and then got Jason Swan to ground out to end the inning. Findlay finished things up in the ninth getting Avant to ground out and then striking out Ledford and Austin Thompson to end the game.
The Eagles had plenty of chances Saturday night but left seven runners in scoring position and had an uncharacteristic 13 strikeouts. Hennon feels the team has come back from adversity in the past and feels they can again.
“I thought we really competed back-and-forth the whole night,” said Hennon. “We have to pick ourselves up and get ready for Texas Tech. One thing about this group is they’ve been knocked down before this year and every time they come back fighting, so we will be ready to go.”
The Eagles will face Texas Tech in the losers’ bracket at 2:00 Sunday. The winner will take on Notre Dame at 7:00. If the winner beats Notre Dame at 7:00 there will be a final game Monday at 6:00.