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Eagles advance to semis with late, wild win over Furman
Hennon wins 500th game at GSU
GSU New 259223864

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The game didn't end until 12:45 a.m., but at least Georgia Southern got the rest of Friday off.

The seventh-seeded Eagles clinched a spot in Saturday's Southern Conference semifinals with a wild, 3-2 win over the No. 6 Furman Paladins that started late Thursday night at Fluor Field and lasted until the early hours.

The game started 12 hours, 10 minutes after the Eagles' opening game of the tournament, a 2-0 win over No. 2 College of Charleston.

"I just tried to relax and not think about it when we went back to the hotel," said GSU starter Sam

Howard, who went 6.2 innings and struck out nine for the Eagles. "When the time came, I was ready."

The win was No. 500 for GSU coach Rodney Hennon as an Eagle.

Down to its last out and trailing 2-1, GSU (27-30) scrapped across two runs in the top of the ninth.
The rally started benign enough, with Stryker Brown beating out an infield single -- the Eagles' fourth hit of the game and third that didn't leave the infield.

Tyler Avera got behind in the count, 1-2, but battled back with four foul tips and drew a walk on a 10-pitch at-bat against Furman's Ben Carlson to turn things over to Zac Lenns, who entered the game in the eighth as a pinch hitter.

"That tends to get overlooked in (an inning) like that, but that's a huge at-bat," Hennon said about Avera. "He fought off some pitches to set the stage for Zac."

Lenns took two balls, than ripped the third pitch he saw into right field to drive in Brown and send Avera to third base.

"He gave me two fastballs in a row," Lenns said. "The first one was a little in -- just missed hitting me in the arm -- then I was thinking, 'It's 2-0, he's going to give me a fastball, and I need to put the ball somewhere.' Luckily, I was thinking away, and that's where he put it."

Carlson let a wild pitch get away from him, and Furman catcher Andrew MacLatchie's throw to the plate was too late to get Avera, who slid head first for the game-winning run.

The game was a pitcher's duel from the start, with Howard battling Furman's Alex Abrams.

The Paladins (32-24) had ample scoring chances, stranding five runners in the first three innings, including three in scoring position, but it was GSU that struck first.

Brent Pugh reached on a throwing error from shortstop Hunter Burton to lead off the sixth inning. Ben Morgan lined a single to right, allowing Pugh to reach third, and a sacrifice fly from Robbie Dodds gave the Eagles a 1-0 lead.

Furman nearly answered in the bottom of the frame, when Paul Nitto appeared to rip an RBI double down the line 25 feet up Fluor Field's 30-foot-tall green monster, but the hit was ruled foul, and Nitto promptly struck out on the next pitch from Howard.

The Paladins finally got to Howard in the seventh, when RBI doubles by Jordan Simpson and Will Muzika put Furman ahead 2-1.

Kyle Rowe (4-3) earned the win, pitching the final 2.1 innings and striking out four, including Muzika and Taylor Johnson to slam the door.

Furman will face No. 3 Elon on Friday at 7 p.m.

The loser will be eliminated, and the winner will face Georgia Southern in the semifinals on Saturday at 1:30 p.m., and will need to beat the Eagles twice to advance to the championship.

"We worked hard to get there," Hennon said about the semifinals, "and we'll enjoy the day off."

Friday's 3 p.m. game will see No. 1 Western Carolina or No. 5 Appalachian State eliminated, with the winner facing The Citadel on Saturday in the semifinals at 10 a.m.

NOTES: Morgan's strikeout in the third inning was the fifth for Abrams. It matched his total in the game he pitched against the Eagles during the regular season. Abrams finished with 10. In two games this season against GSU, Burton pitched 13 innings, allowed an earned run on four hits and struck out 14. Neither ended in a decision. The strikeout against Morgan was also GSU's 489th of the season, setting a new SoCon record after passing College of Charleston's total of 488 set in 2012. ... Announced attendance was 555. ... After GSU's opening game against Charleston, the Cougars were later eliminated by Elon, losing 18-8. It was the last SoCon tournament for Charleston, which will leave the league to join the Colonial Athletic Association next year.

Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.