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Eagles face first road SoCon test

    For two years, the Southern Conference title has gone through this weekend’s marquee matchup.
    Over the course of the last two seasons, Samford has won the regular season series both times, but the Bulldogs have split with Georgia Southern when it has counted the most — Southern Conference championship games.
    “It has turned into a rivalry,” GSU coach Rodney Hennon said. “All the games we’ve been involved in with each other have been meaningful within the league — meeting in the championship game the last two years — and they’ve all been hard-fought battles. I wouldn’t expect any different this weekend.”
    The Eagles (10-6, 3-0 SoCon) travel to Birmingham, Ala., today, to face Samford (11-7, 1-2) in a three-game series beginning at 7 p.m.
    The Eagles have won four-straight games, including a SoCon-opening sweep over Wofford last weekend. Mercer battled with GSU on Wednesday, but a three-run top of the ninth led the Eagles to a 10-8 victory.
    Hennon hopes to see the momentum continue into the Samford series.
    “It’s exactly what I told the team after the game,” he said. “We’ve got to continue that Friday night when the first pitch is thrown all the way until we record that last out on Sunday.”
    Hennon doesn’t put too much stock in the Wofford sweep.
    “Obviously it’s always good to get off to a fast start, but we’ve got a long way to go. Our guys understand that,” he said. “They all count the same. Whether it’s the second weekend or the last weekend, all those games count the same in the standings. We’ve got to continue playing hard every day.”
    The heart of the GSU lineup — Ben Morgan, Chase Griffin and T.D. Davis — has been productive all season, combining for 58 RBIs through 16 games, but it’s been the bottom half of the order coming up big for the Eagles lately.
    Robbie Dodds has hit a team-high .394 since entering the lineup in place of injured outfielder Hunter Thomas, and Brent Pugh homered in the Wofford series and hit a key double against Mercer.
    “The last week or so, we’ve gotten great production out of the bottom of our lineup,” Hennon said. “Pugh being one of those guys, Tyler Avera has had some good at-bats, (Arthur) Owens is doing some good things, and that’s good to see. It doesn’t always have to be the same guy every night.”
    Closer Kyle Rowe has been on the shelf with an injury, and could see action against Samford.
    “We’ll see how he feels,” Hennon said. “He’s been throwing on the side some and has felt good so far, so I think there’s a chance.”
    Sam Howard and Jason Richman, both left handers, are projected to start Friday and Saturday. A starter has not been named for Sunday’s game.

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