NCAA Regional sites. Click for locations:
CHARLESTON, S.C. – Chris Beck threw 234 pitches in 17 innings, struck out 22 batters and allowed one earned run on eight hits in two Southern Conference tournament games at Joe Riley Park.
The second one happened to be the championship game.
Beck pitched a complete-game, three-hit shutout on three-days rest Sunday to lead the Eagles to the 2011 Southern Conference title and an automatic bid to the NCAA regionals.
“It was his to finish,” said GSU coach Rodney Hennon about whether or not to relieve Beck with Andy Moye in the ninth inning. “Once he got that far in, there at the end, you’ve got to let him finish that ballgame.”
With a one-run lead throughout most of the game, it was all Beck could do to remain composed between innings in the dugout.
“I would picture the dog pile at the end in my head,” said Beck (9-4), a sophomore righty who started every SoCon series opener in 2011. “I just stayed out of the sun, kept hydrated and kept thinking, ‘Give your team a chance. Give your team a chance.’”
Left fielder Scooter Williams gave GSU (36-24) all the scoring it needed.
He scored the game’s only run in the top of the third, and got a little bit of help from the Bulldogs (37-23) along the way.
Williams, batting from the nine-hole, singled to open the frame. He stole second, and Samford catcher Brad Moss attempted to throw him out, but the throw soared into center allowing Williams to take third.
With one out and Eric Phillips at the plate, a wild pitch from SU starter Lex Rutledge allowed Williams to touch the dish for the eventual game winner.
“That’s a heads-up play by him. That’s his read,” said Hennon, also the Eagles’ third-base coach. “With the arms they throw out there, you’ve got to be aggressive and push the issue.”
“He always tells us to be the aggressor so the other team can make a bad throw,” added Williams about Hennon, “just like what happened today. Eric did a good job of telling me it rolled far enough, and I was able to beat the throw.”
Standing at third, Williams had every intention of scoring.
“It was just, ‘Get there. Get safe. Do whatever I have to do,’” he said.
Beck faced no more than four batters in any inning, and retired the Bulldogs in order five times while striking out nine.
The biggest strikeout was the last one.
Samford’s Saxon Butler lined a two-out single to right to keep the Bulldogs alive in the bottom of the ninth, but Beck got Brandon Miller – the team’s cleanup hitter who had already gone down on strikes three times – to swing at and miss the game’s final pitch.
“It was the perfect ending,” said Beck, “to the beginning of a good postseason.”
Beck was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. He was also named to the All-Tournament team, where he was joined by Phillips, catcher Tom Richardson and designated hitter Michael Burruss.
The Eagles will find out their regional matchup Monday at 12:30 p.m.
The NCAA selection show will air on ESPN, and fans are invited to join the Eagles at Paulson Stadium’s Bishop Fieldhouse as they watch to find out where the NCAA will send them for the Division I tournament.
The Eagles last played in a regional in 2009 as the SoCon’s automatic qualifier. They were eliminated in Fullerton, Calif. with losses to Gonzaga and Utah.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.