For the last 25 years, Rodney Hennon has been competing for Southern Conference Championships.
The Georgia Southern baseball coach started his playing career at Western Carolina in 1990, and remained there as an assistant and head coach until 1999 before coming to GSU.
It’s fitting then that the last regular season SoCon series in which Hennon will coach at Georgia Southern — the Eagles will join the Sun Belt Conference next season — is against Western Carolina.
His mind, of course, is on the next three games, not the last 25 years of competing in the SoCon.
“When everything’s said and done and over with, I’m sure one day I’m going to look back at the experience of being a player and a coach in this league, but right now you can’t get caught up in it,” Hennon said.
Hennon has won 612 games as a head coach, 531 at GSU, and if there’s such a thing as a friendly rivalry, that’s exactly what has developed between the Eagles and Catamounts. In fact Western Carolina assistant coach Alan Beck was one of Hennon’s last recruits before Hennon came to GSU.
“I’ll always keep up with what’s going on up there,” Hennon said about WCU’s home in Cullowhee, N.C. “I had a great experience as a player and a coach. I wouldn’t trade that part of my life for anything. But I’m an Eagle, and I’m focused on what we need to do.”
Western (32-14, 16-4 SoCon) visits J.I. Clements for a series beginning today at 6 p.m.
The Catamounts are on a six-game winning streak and took over first place in the league last weekend with a sweep against Appalachian State.
The Eagles, meanwhile, swept Furman last weekend to skip from seventh place to fourth in the league. Sam Howard, the Eagles’ Friday starter for most of the season, swapped spots with Saturday starter Josh Wirsu against Furman, and the switch paid off. The pair combined for 17 scoreless innings in a pair of shutouts in their new roles.
“The focus has got to be about what this team has to do, and right now I feel good about where we are,” Hennon said. “We’re playing good baseball and our kids are having fun at the park every day. We helped ourselves last weekend and we’ve got to continue to play well. The focus has got to be on getting that first game on Friday.”
GSU (31-19, 13-11) will have a long wait to learn its seeding in the upcoming SoCon tournament, regardless of what will happen in this weekend’s series, because most of the SoCon will be in action the following weekend while GSU will be off.
Hennon hopes to see his team continue with last weekend’s offensive approach of looking to manufacture runs, something that wasn’t needed when GSU was the nation’s top hitting team 20 games into the season.
“Early in the year we fell into a trap of trying to rely too much on the home run. Our kids see the other things we have to do to be successfully,” Hennon said. “I feel good about the direction we’re headed.”
Morale is also high, Hennon said, despite the midseason adversity of a handful of suspensions for “violation of team rules” and the dismissal of Will Middour and Aaron Palmer.
“I see our team coming down to the ballpark and having some fun again,” Hennon said, “and that’s when some good things can happen.”
The Eagles wrap up final exams today, and four — Stryker Brown, Matt McCall, Ben Morgan and Garren Palmer will be honored for senior day. Brown and McCall will walk in the University’s graduations ceremonies on Saturday morning, while Palmer continues work on his masters degree. Morgan is set to graduate in the fall.
“Four good ones,” Hennon said about the seniors. They’ve all sacrificed for this program throughout their years.”
Wirsu and Howard are set to start Friday and Saturday, with Sunday’s starter to be named later. Saturday’s game, originally scheduled for 2:30 p.m., has been rescheduled for 4 p.m. to accommodate graduation.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.