It was no secret that the last six games on Georgia Southern's schedule - three at Charleston and last weekend's series against Elon - were going to be big.
That's even more evident now.
The Eagles (17-15, 9-6 Southern Conference) were swept by the Cougars after seeing ninth-inning leads in each of the first two games erased and bounced back to take two out of three with strong pitching against the Phoenix. All of a sudden, all three teams are tied for third in SoCon play.
GSU got 18.1 innings out of its weekend starters and two huge appearances by closer Dexter Bobo against Elon, so as the Eagles prepare for Jacksonville (17-16, 9-6 Atlantic Sun) today, it's time to get the rest of the staff some work.
Freshman Justin Hess (2.70 ERA, 20 IP, 16 K, 6 ER) will get the start, but he won't be the only one getting a look.
"The way the schedule's played out with no midweek games last week and our starters giving us length, some of those guys haven't thrown as much," said GSU coach Rodney Hennon. "We need to get guys like (Charles) Matthews, (Michael) Hester, we're going to have to get them back in the mix because we're going to need to use guys down the stretch."
Georgia Southern beat the Dolphins 4-2 a year ago, and owns a 59-56 record against JU in a series dating back to 1948.
"Record-wise, they're very similar to where we're at. It's always been a competitive series," Hennon said. "We've played them every year since I've been here, and the series goes back well before that, but it's always been competitive, and I wouldn't expect anything different."
The Eagles are a different team offensively than they were last year, when they hit 87 home runs and scored 565 runs. This season, they're on pace for 42 homers and 387 runs.
The ups and downs this season have come along with the renewed emphasis on pitching and defense, which has come a long way since the beginning of the season.
"We're not as explosive as we have been the last couple of years," said Hennon. "I do think we're getting better offensively. Some of our newcomers are getting more confident as the season continues to move on, but because we're not as explosive, mistakes we've made defensively or on the mound, they're magnified."
Today's first pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. at J.I. Clements Stadium, and the Eagles will return to the home diamond Friday for a three-game series against Samford, who is tied atop the conference with only one loss in SoCon play.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.