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Eagles clinch regular-season SoCon title

    The Georgia Southern Eagles locked up the Southern Conference regular-season championship on Saturday against Samford in Birmingham, Ala., but there wasn’t a whole lot of celebrating.
    The Eagles entered the weekend with a three-game lead in the conference standings over second-place Furman, so GSU needed only one win or one Furman loss against Appalachian State, with both teams playing a Saturday doubleheader. Samford swept the doubleheader, but Furman lost game two against ASU, 7-3, to close the door on its hopes and leave the Eagles with the best record in the SoCon.
    The conference tournament begins Wednesday, and the Eagles will face the No. 8 seed at 12:30 p.m., on UNC Greensboro’s campus in Greensboro, N.C., in the double-elimination tournament.
    Georgia Southern has won the conference tournament two years in a row, both under third-year coach Annie Smith. Smith led the Eagles to the regular season crown in 2012, and the Eagles won the 2013 tournament as the No. 3 seed.
    “The nice thing about the No. 1 seed is that we’ll get to be the home team,” Smith said after the Eagles learned they had won the regular season title. “It helps us way. But also, everybody’s gunning for you and wants to knock you off.”
    GSU (32-19, 14-6 SoCon) dropped the first game at Samford, 1-0, and lost the second 2-1 in eight innings.
    Smith tried — to no avail — to keep the team’s focus on the games at hand and not the potential conference title. She didn’t want anyone getting ahead of themselves.
    “I tried not to, but unfortunately everybody else does,” Smith said. “It’s all about one more game, and I like to win every game we play. We understood the situation — it’s hard not to when everybody’s talking about it — and I’m happy for our seniors.”
    The Eagles’ upperclassmen are the first group in GSU history with two regular season championships. It was the third for the program, which will leave the SoCon for the Sun Belt Conference next season. Georgia Southern will exit with the second-best winning percentage in conference games (60.1), and are one of only two conference teams (Chattanooga, 74.6) with a winning percentage above 60.
The season’s not over yet. The Eagles will play their last-ever regular season SoCon game today at 2 p.m., when they try to avoid the sweep against the Bulldogs. 
    “I hope we come out with a fire in our belly,” Smith said.

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