After Georgia Southern went two-and-out at the 2010 Southern Conference baseball tournament, juniors Andy Moye and Shawn Payne were drafted to the minors.
Each decided to play out his senior year at GSU.
Heading into the 2011 tournament, which begins today, both have some unfinished business to take care of.
“It was a big motivation for me, coming back,” said Moye, a first-team, all Southern Conference pitcher. “Last year we didn’t really reach our potential. When I came back, it was a big goal of mine to help this team win a championship. It’s a big week for us.”
Payne remembers the 12-game winning streak leading up to the final regular-season series in 2010. He also remembers the season coming to a screeching halt when The Citadel swept the Eagles the weekend before the tournament.
“At the end of the year we had a chance to win the [regular season] then we got swept by The Citadel. We went in [the tournament] and went two and out,” said Payne, a second-team, All-SoCon selection at centerfield. “It left a bad taste in my mouth. I want to get out there and play.”
The team avoided another season-ending sweep this year, when it dropped the first two at Appalachian State but closed the season with a 12-4 win over the Mountaineers.
“I thought it was huge,” said GSU coach Rodney Hennon about the season-ending win. “After losing the second game late, I thought it was very important to get some momentum back on our side and I was proud of the way the guys responded.”
The fourth-seeded Eagles (32-23, 18-12 SoCon) will begin the quest for redemption today at 9 p.m. against No. 5 College of Charleston, a team that dropped two of three to GSU at its home field. The tournament takes place at Joseph P. Riley Park in Charleston, S.C.
To Hennon, the first-round matchup could have been anybody, and it wouldn’t have changed much about the Eagles’ approach.
“Everybody out there is going to run a good pitcher out on Wednesday night,” Hennon said. “We really didn’t look into it too much this year. Our focus has been on what we can do and how well we can play.”
There is plenty of hype for the Eagles entering tournament play.
Georgia Southern brings five All-Conference selections — Matt Murray, also the SoCon Pitcher of the Year, Victor Roache, also the league’s player of the year, shortstop Eric Phillips, Moye and Payne.
Roache has the biggest bat in the tournament, coming in with a GSU and SoCon record 29 home runs.
He leads all of Division I in the long-ball category, and as a matter of fact, he has hit more home runs than 196 of 299 Division I teams, including the entire Southeastern Conference.
The Eagles aren’t thinking too far ahead of themselves heading into today’s game. They want to approach the tournament one game at a time.
“A lot of people look at it like your back’s against the wall. You know you’ve got to win or go home,” Payne said. “But you just have to play hard and leave it on the field, and everything will take care of itself.”
Moye, who is projected to start Thursday’s game, which will be against either No. 1 seed Elon or No. 8 Western Carolina, looks at things differently now that the regular season is done.
“When you go into a season, you’ve got to go through the battles and try to win every series. But when it comes to the tournament, you’ve got to win every game,” said Moye. “You’ve got to do everything you can to win as a team and pull this thing out.”
Sophomore Chris Beck is the projected starter today.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.