The Georgia Southern baseball team has only lost one Sun Belt series and this past weekend they capped off their second conference sweep of the season. The Eagles took three games from the visiting Georgia State Panthers winning 4-2 Thursday, 11-1 Friday and then came back from a 6-0 deficit to win 10-8 in the finale on Saturday.
“It was a big weekend obviously,” said Hennon. “The guys battled and played well, and found a way to come back on Sunday to complete the sweep. We were able to get away Sunday for Easter and we gave them Monday off too in order to rest up for another big week coming up. We were coming off back-to-back road weeks and a couple days rest was much needed.”
The Eagles currently stand 24-11 overall and are 11-4 in Sun Belt play where they are currently in second place, only one game behind conference leading Texas State. The Eagles also sport four wins against teams that were at the time ranked in the Top-25 of the nation. Monday the most recent NCAA polls came out and the Eagles are currently No. 19 in the latest Baseball America poll and No. 25 in D1Baseball which marks their first nationally ranking since 2013.
“It is good recognition for the program,” said Hennon. “There is still a long way to go and I think our guys understand that every week and every game we play is an opportunity for us to help ourselves. We have tough teams the rest of the way and we have to be able to keep things going. Our league is good and we have to keep getting better as a team, so while the ranking is nice it’s not what we are trying to accomplish. There is still a lot of work to be done.”
The Eagles have been getting solid starting pitching in their Friday and Saturday starts, which this week were moved back a day due to Easter being Sunday. Ty Fisher gave up only two runs while striking out six in the Eagles 4-2 win in Game 1. Jalen Paden gave up only two hits and no runs while striking out nine in the Eagles 11-1 win on Friday. The trouble for the Eagles has been finding a dependable third starter. Danny Madden (6.35 ERA) and Ben Johnson (5.06 ERA) have both had moments but Hennon has been piecing together starts lately with plenty of pitchers getting their chances.
“We really need somebody in that third slot on the weekend,” said Hennon. “We need someone to step up and give us some consistency. This Saturday we gave up some walks and then didn’t play great defense behind Ga’Von Wray, who has pitched pretty well for us. We are just looking for someone in that third slot to just throw strikes, field their position and just do the little things better and more consistently. You are going to give up hits and runs, you just don’t want to give up those crooked numbers that really hurt you.”
The good thing for the Eagles in their third game of many Sun Belt series is they have been able to stay in games due to their offense. The Eagles have had plenty of their fifth-year seniors stepping up and Hennon credits the leadership of his upperclassmen in keeping morale up no matter the situation.
“You get close to a lot of these guys and many have been here for five years,” said Hennon. “When you are together with a group that long I think there is a trust that has developed which I think helps. These guys have experienced a little bit of everything with the highs and the lows. They understand what it takes to prepare to be ready to go at all times.”
While most of the seniors have contributed throughout the season the next man up mentality has also been important, and evident in the last four wins where the Eagles got big hits from players like Sam Blancato and Kyler Hultgren.
“Those are two guys who if you are around the program, you see what great attitudes and work ethics they have every day,” said Hennon. “They are team guys and are like that all the time. If they are not in the lineup, they are encouraging whoever is out there in their position. It’s good to see those guys come through when their number is called.”
This week the Eagles continue their strong schedule with a road trip to Florida State Wednesday followed by a three-game conference series at South Alabama (22-12, 9-6) starting Friday.
“Florida State always has a talented team and are well coached,” said Hennon. “They just swept Louisville who is a top-10 team this weekend and beat Florida in a mid-week game. “It’s always a battle when we play South Alabama. We had a tough series with them here last year and then lost to them in the championship game in the tournament. It’s another typical South Alabama team who throws strikes and plays solid defense and are fundamentally sound. They are well coached and again it’s another challenge for us and an opportunity as they are a yop-50 RPI team. That just speaks to the strength of the league this year.”