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Eagles beat Elon, advance to SoCon title game

2012 SoCon Baseball Tournament
Today's Championship Game (single-elimination)
2 p.m., Georgia Southern vs. Samford

Saturday's Games
Bracket One
Georgia Southern 10, Elon 7
Bracket Two
Samford 12, Furman 2

    GREENVILLE, S.C. — For a second consecutive season, and third time in four years, Georgia Southern University's baseball team will play for a Southern Conference Tournament championship.
    The sixth-seeded Eagles weathered a late rally by third-seeded Elon and hit their way to a 10-7 victory in a SoCon Tournament semifinal Saturday afternoon at Fluor Field.
    GSU (33-26) pounded out 16 hits and was propelled by a strong outing from starting pitcher Will Middour to win its third consecutive game and advance to a 10th SoCon title game since joining the league in 1992.
    The Eagles stamped out a six-run rally in the seventh that erased an 8-1 lead, and added late insurance runs to earn the title bid.
    “Every time we get together with Elon, it’s a battle,” GSU head coach Rodney Hennon said. “Their kids fought hard right to the very end and that says a lot about the character of their kids.
    “But I’m awfully proud of our team. Our kids did a good job of keeping their poise. It was a great team effort.”
    With the loss, Elon (33-26) was eliminated from the double-elimination tournament. GSU defeated the Phoenix, 19-2, in each team’s first tournament game Wednesday.
    “Congratulations to Georgia Southern,” said Elon head coach Mike Kennedy. “I give a lot of credit to the effort they put in.”
    “I’m extremely proud of our club. We fought tooth and nail today,” he said. “We didn’t quit.”
    GSU wasted little time in putting the game’s first runs on the scoreboard.
    Following a leadoff walk to center fielder Scooter Williams, who advanced to second base on a wild pitch, Eric Phillips and Chase Griffin laced back-to-back singles to propel the Eagles to a 1-0 lead. GSU failed to pad the margin, though, when Michael Burruss grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.
    A third-inning run widened the gap to two, and in the fifth, Burruss was provided a measure of revenge.
    A third run had already crossed the plate when the Eagles' left-fielder stepped into the box with the bases loaded for a second time.
    He ripped a 1-0 pitch through the right side of the infield, scoring Chase Griffin and Garren Palmer, who each singled earlier in the inning.
    “The at-bat before, I was a little uncomfortable and I told myself to relax during the next one,” Burruss said.   “I wanted to be easy, and take my hands to the ball. He left a mistake-pitch up and I took advantage of it.”
    GSU second baseman Tyler Avera produced another run in the inning that gave the Eagles a 6-1 lead after five and a half innings had been played.
    In the sixth, the Eagles’ bats were at it again.
    Zac Lenns and Williams reached base to begin the frame and were eventually brought home by a Griffin sacrifice fly and two-out line-drive single off the bat of T.D. Davis.
    Through six and a half innings the Eagles led, 8-1, thanks in large part to the effort on the mound by Middour.
    Middour struck out four and allowed just one run on four hits before the seventh inning — he allowed a fifth hit in the seventh and an additional run was charged.
    “My arm had been tight lately. This heat really loosened it up for me and I had good command of my fastball and changeup all day,” Middour said. “I knew going into the game that it would be big for us to win this one.”
    Elon second baseman Sebastian Gomez led off the seventh inning with a double down the left field line, and Middour was relieved by Sam Howard.
    Howard would be one of four other pitchers that appeared in the inning (Howard, Heath Durand, Jarret Leverett and Kyle Rowe), as Elon hitters caught fire and scored six runs on five hits. The inning was aided by a walk and two GSU errors.
    Rowe was able to record the final two outs of the inning once he entered, preserving the Eagles' 8-7 lead. He pitched the final two innings of the game and logged his sixth save.
    GSU was able to tack on two insurance runs in the eight, responding to the Phoenix rally.
    Griffin delivered a run-scoring triple with no one out in the inning, and scored later on a Palmer single.
    Middour (3-3) was credited with the win for GSU. Phillips, Griffin and Avera each contributed three hits. Griffin led the team with three runs batted in.
    With the win, GSU advanced to the SoCon Tournament championship game and will play Samford at 2 p.m. today at Fluor Field.
    Samford advanced to the title game with a 12-2 win over No. 8 seed Furman on Saturday afternoon.
    This will be the second year in a row the Eagles and Bulldogs have faced off for the tournament title. The Bulldogs defeated Western Carolina and top-seeded Appalachian State before eliminating Furman.
    Chris Beck will get the start for GSU.
    The Eagles will be aiming for a second straight conference tournament title.
    “We peaked at the right time,” Burruss said. “Our bats are picking up and our pitching is picking up.
    “When we do fall down, we pick each other up. That is huge for the team.”

    Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.