After a nine-win season during Samford’s first trip through a Southern Conference schedule in 2009, nobody could have seen this coming.
The Georgia Southern Eagles knew heading in that the back-to-back road trips to Charleston and Elon would be big, and now for the third week in a row, the Eagles are facing a team at the top of the conference.
The Bulldogs (21-11, 11-1 SoCon) come into today’s game tied for first with The Citadel.
Fortunately, after suffering the sweep at Charleston and dropping the first game at Elon, the Eagles (18-15, 9-6) have put together a three-game winning streak.
“The last few games have been important for our team’s confidence,” said GSU coach Rodney Hennon. “Heading into this series, I think Samford has played very well especially in the league. They went over to Charleston and took two out of three, and they’ve swept everybody else.”
GSU has felt a power drought lately. In the last seven games, the home runs have come from Eric Phillips, a sophomore who was moved to shortstop for the first time at the beginning of the season. Phillips hit solo homers in wins over Elon and Jacksonville, and also drove in the game-winning run in Tuesday’s 6-5 win over the Dolphins.
“I don’t think he’s really doing anything differently,” Hennon said about Phillips’ approach at the plate. “I think a lot of it is just due to confidence. He struggled a little bit out of the gate at the start of the season, and if you look at him, it’s his first season playing shortstop. Last year, he wasn’t looked upon as ‘the guy.’ We had a lot of veterans in that lineup around him. He started this season playing a new position and he’s adjusting there, but since the first few weeks he’s been consistent for us. Of course lately, he’s gotten some big hits and he’s seeing the ball better.”
Hennon is also pleased with how the newcomers are coming along.
Freshman outfielder Arthur Owens is third on the team in on-base percentage (.428) behind Kyle Blackburn and A.J. Wirnsberger and is batting .325 in his rookie campaign.
Hennon also likes the way the other outfielders are coming along, including Victor Roache who, after a power display early in the season, has recently started emerging from a slump.
“I like the way he’s swinging the bat. I think he’s aggressive,” Hennon said, “and (junior-college transfer Shawn) Payne has been doing some good things.”
Samford comes in winning 10 of their last 11, including Tuesday’s 7-5 win over Alabama, and has won every series since a season-opening, four-game split with Marshall.
The Eagles will stick with the weekend rotation of Jake Brown, Matt Murray and Andy Moye for the series. The three starters have combined to go 11-8 with 143 strikeouts to only 40 walks in 144.2 innings of work.
First pitch tonight is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.