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Georgia Southern beats Samford to win Southern Conference championship
Eagles top Bulldogs, 4-3
The Georgia Southern Eagles celebrate after Chase Griffin's RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning propelled the team to a 4-3 win over Samford in the 2014 Southern Conference championship game. It was the last event for GSU's program as a member of the SoCon. (SoCon Photos) - photo by SoCon Photos

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The Georgia Southern Eagles left the Southern Conference with a bang.

Chase Griffin pounded a walkoff single into the teeth of a five-man infield with the bases loaded and GSU beat Samford 4-3 to take the SoCon title on Sunday at Riley Park.

It was the last-ever SoCon event for GSU.

“Wow,” said GSU pitcher Jason Richman, who appeared in all six tournament games and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the event. “It’s amazing to represent this university in that fashion, to represent our coaches, our fans, I couldn’t be more proud.

Third-seeded Samford led throughout, but the No. 4 Eagles plated a pair on the final frame for the win. Facing the best closer in the SoCon, Andres Gracia, GSU was down to the final out.

Gracia came in with 14 saves and a 0.28 ERA in 29 appearances.

Trailing 3-2, Aaron Mizell started the ninth with hard ground ball that couldn't be corralled by first baseman Caleb Bryson to reach with a single. Stryker Brown drew a walk, and clearly rattled, Gracia balked when the ball slipped out of his hand as he toed the rubber.

Samford (35-25) then elected to walk Hunter Thomas.

With the bases loaded and one out, the Eagle’s leading hitter, freshman Garrett Chapman, drove in Mizell with a single to left and tied the score.

Samford brought in an outfielder to sprinkle five infielders around the bases, but that didn’t stop Griffin from driving a single through the middle and cause the dogpile celebration down the first base line.

“It was crazy,” Griffin said. “It’s every baseball player’s dream to hit a walkoff and win the conference tournament. It was unreal. It’s what you live for and what you play for.”

Samford starting pitcher Alex Ledford was remarkable through six innings, facing the minimum and allowing only a single hit to Garren Palmer after his offense spotted him a 3-0 lead through two. Palmer was erased on a double play.

Ledford averaged eight pitches per inning through five.

“It was frustrating, but they hung in there,” Hennon said. “They were going to continue to fight, and we found a way.”

The Eagles (39-21) finally got to him in the seventh with a Ben Morgan walk, a Mizell single and an RBI single by Brown. Ledford left the game after an RBI single by Thomas cut the score to 3-2.

GSU starter Josh Wirsu started on three days rest, going six strong and allowing three runs on five hits. He struck out six.

Richman appeared in the seventh, for the sixth time in five days. He struck out the first two batters he faced and got GSU to the ninth. Sam Howard earned the win in his first relief apprarence, retiring all three batters he faced in the ninth.

The final line on Richman in the tournament was six appearances (a SoCon tourney record), 13.1 innings pitched, 14 strikeouts and one earned run allowed. He threw 206 pitches.

Griffin just laughed when asked about Richman’s week in Charleston.

“That kid is unbelievable,” the catcher said. "I’ve never seen anything like it."

“What can you say? He’s as determined as anyone I’ve ever coached,” Hennon added.

It was Georgia Southern’s fourth SoCon tournament final in the last six years. They won three of them, including a 1-0 victory against Samford in 2011 with former ace Chris Beck throwing a complete game. Samford defeated the Eagles in the 2012 championship.

Georgia Southern hit eight home runs in the tournament. No other team hit more than two. Mizell and Brown each hit a pair on the week.

Hennon won his fifth title at GSU.

“They’ve all been different, and they’re all sweet,” Hennon said.

Georgia Southern earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with the win. The regionals begin either Thursday or Friday.

The Eagles will learn their matchup Monday at noon on the NCAA selection show.

Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-4908.