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Eagles focus on SoCon tournament

            CHARLESTON, S.C. -- One thing’s clear -- Georgia Southern’s power numbers are down this season.

            As the Southern Conference baseball tournament moves from its 2009 location in Greenville, S.C. to Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park in Charleston, the lack of power might not matter. It might even help.

            “In all honesty, I think we’re better suited with this team this year to play in a bigger ball park, maybe more so than even in our home ballpark,” said GSU coach Rodney Hennon, whose third-seeded Eagles open the tournament with No. 6 Western Carolina today at 1 p.m. “This isn’t a team that’s really produced off home runs. We’ve hit a few, but we’re a little bit different offensively this year and most of the runs we’ve given up have been via the home run in our own ballpark. We’re better suited playing up here with this team.”

            “The Joe,” as the Stadium is called by the locals, is located beside the Ashley River. It causes a constant wind blowing in and makes it play a lot bigger than it is.

            That could prove useful for a GSU team that allowed 75 homers and hit only 52 -- down from 87 a year ago.

            “You’ve always got to have pitching, and you’ve got to play good defense,” Hennon said. “Offensively, especially in that park the way it plays, you really have to do the little things and be able to execute when you have opportunities to score.”

            Georgia Southern (34-22) will throw Jake Brown today, and the Catamounts (34-19) will give the nod to Matt Benedict (8-1, 2.45 ERA), a second-team All-Southern Conference selection.

            “Everybody in the league is going to be able to throw a quality pitcher in the first game,” said Hennon. “Last year, we had to fight, scratch and claw in that first game against Davidson (in a 4-3, 11-inning win in which then-shortstop Brian Pierce drove in the winning run).

            “Everybody’s going over there with something to play for. It’s a new season for all eight teams, and when you talk about a tournament, you’d better just focus on the next game. There’s no need to look beyond that.”

            The Eagles don’t want to look too far down the road of the eight-team, double-elimination tournament. They don’t want to get caught looking back at the three-game sweep by No. 1 The Citadel that ended the regular season at J.I. Clements Stadium and snapped a 12-game winning streak, either.

            The only thought is on evening the score with WCU, which took the regular-season series back in April, and not on the way the season ended.

            “The last series didn’t go our way, but we’ve been playing good the second half of the season,” said senior first baseman Kyle Blackburn, who hit a career-high 17 home runs and was named first-team All-SoCon. “I think if we just go out there and play like we know we can, I think we’ll do fine. We’ve got a bunch of confidence. We’re just focusing on Western. They took two of three from us during the season, and we’re ready to even that back up.”

            The winner of the contest will face the winner of today’s game between No. 2 College of Charleston and No. 7 Appalachian State Thursday at 5 p.m. The loser between GSU and WCU will face the loser of the ASU/CofC matchup Thursday at 9 a.m.


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