CHARLESTON, S.C. -- If the fourth-seeded Georgia Southern Eagles wanted to advance in the 2014 Southern Conference tournament, they needed to get past No. 1 seed Western Carolina in an elimination game on Thursday morning.
The regular season champion Catamounts took a seat, and the Eagles stayed alive.
Georgia Southern mashed four home runs off WCU starter Jeremy Null and the Eagles advanced with an 8-4 win at Riley Park.
GSU (35-21) was facing elimination after Wednesday’s extra-innings loss to No. 5 Appalachian State.
“That's the thing that’s special about this group. We get knocked down, but these guys continue to get back up,” GSU coach Rodney Hennon said. “They pick each other up. We’re thankful to have the opportunity to play (on Friday). We’ll be ready to come back out and compete.”
It was a back-and-forth game, but Western Carolina (37-18) let it get out of hand on the back of a bases-loaded, two-out single by GSU’s Ben Morgan in the eighth that gave the Eagles a four-run edge and capped a three-run frame.
“We haven’t gotten a lot of those two-out hits, and we were kind of a victim of that (Wednesday against Appalachian State),” Hennon said, “To extend that lead, that was huge.”
Morgan drove in three runs, including a solo homer in the sixth that tied the game at 2-2. Aaron Mizell followed that with a towering shot over the batter’s eye to dead centerfield.
Western scrapped across a pair of runs in the fourth to take a 2-1 lead. The Catamounts tied it 3-3 in the third off of a solo shot by Adam Martin, but they lost the lead for good in the seventh when Dalton Busby hit the fourth homer off of Null, a two-run shot that drove in Chase Griffin (2-for-3, RBI, 2 doubles, BB).
Null (6-4) had given up only six homers heading into the game.
The scoring started in the second when senior Garren Palmer -- in the lineup in place of slumping first baseman Ryan Cleveland -- crushed the first pitch he saw over the scoreboard in left-center.
“You look at his career, he’s a very unselfish player,” Hennon said about Palmer. “You know what you’re going to get from him every day. You’re going to get 100 percent. When you throw him in there he seems to do something to spark you.”
Sam Howard (5-6) didn’t learn who he’d be facing until Wednesday afternoon, but pitched well, going 6.2 innings with four strikeouts. He allowed six hits and all four WCU runs.
“I went into the game acting like I haven’t faced them before, because I didn't know who I’d be facing,” Howard said. “I gave all I could for the team.”
Ryan Frederick earned the save after the Cats got two aboard in the ninth, and Jason Richman, pitching for the second day in a row and for the 41st time this season, pitched 1.1 scoreless innings.
“It makes it easy when the guys are always behind you all the time,” Richman said. “It’s easy to play for them.”
The Eagles committed an error in the second that didn’t result in a WCU run, because on the play before Danny Bermudez ripped an apparent double into the left-center gap, but he didn't touch first base on his way to second. Hennon pointed it out to Howard, who tossed the ball to Palmer at first, which resulted in Bermudez being ruled out.
Hennon, who closed out the regular season -- GSU’s last in the SoCon -- against his alma mater WCU, said he didn't put too much thought into facing the Catamounts again in an elimination game.
“The focus was getting to Friday, whether it was against Western Carolina or anybody else,” Hennon said. “We needed a win to advance and get to Friday. That’s what the focus has to be. You can’t get caught up in any of that.”
The Eagles will again face elimination on Friday when they play the loser between Furman and Appalachian State. The winner of that game will earn a bye into Saturday’s semifinals.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.