#9 UNCG 5
#8 Furman 6
Jordan Simpson’s RBI single to shallow center field capped a two-run rally in the bottom of the 11th inning as eighth-seeded Furman eliminated No. 9 seed UNCG 6-5 in the opening game of the play-in round on Tuesday.
#10 The Citadel 10
#7 Elon 7
The Citadel rallied from an early 6-1 deficit to claim a 10-7 win over defending champion Elon in the single-elimination portion of the Southern Conference Baseball Championship at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park on Tuesday. The 10th-seeded Bulldogs advance to face No. 2 seed Davidson on today at 5 p.m.
If anybody’s hot heading into the Southern Conference tournament, it’s Georgia Southern.
The Eagles shook off a three-game losing streak with a 20-2 win over Wofford, and then won six of seven to close out the season, including winning the series over SoCon regular season champion Western Carolina.
No. 4 seed GSU (34-20) faces No. 5 Appalachian State (20-32) at 10 a.m., today in Charleston S.C., in the first round of the SoCon tournament
It will be the Georgia Southern’s last shot at a SoCon title before the program joins the Sun Belt Conference next season.
“I like where we’re at,” GSU coach Rodney Hennon said. “I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence heading over there.”
Josh Wirsu will get the start against ASU. The junior college transfer took over the Friday starting spot three weeks ago, replacing Sam Howard, who moved to the Saturday spot.
Egos weren’t a factor in making those decisions.
“I think it’s a credit to those two guys. It made that decision for us as a staff a lot easier. It’s an unselfish group,” Hennon said. “At the end of the day, they want to win, and whatever they feel like is going to be the best for our team, they’re all for it. That’s obvious with how those guys responded when we made the switch a few weeks ago.”
The Eagles started the season on fire, with a 15-1 record and wins over Georgia, Georgia Tech, Holy Cross and Clemson. The team ran into a midseason slump, especially in SoCon play, after the home runs became less frequent.
Now, it’s arguable that the Eagles are the most balanced team in the league, coming into the tournament with a 3.13 team ERA and a .290 collective batting average.
“We’ve evolved offensively,” Hennon said. “We fell under the trap earlier in the year of relying too much on the long ball. As the season has progressed, guys have started to buy in to the things we have to do to manufacture runs.”
During the regular season, GSU took two of three from Appalachian State in the middle of March. Wirsu will face Tyler Moore in a rematch from March 22. Moore went seven innings and allowed only two earned runs on five GSU hits. Wirsu took the loss, allowing all three ASU runs on five hits in 5.1 innings.
If GSU should advance past Thursday in the tournament, the pitching situation gets interesting. Potential starters are Matt McCall, Ryan Frederick and Eric Alonzo.
The bullpen features Jason Richman, whose 1.14 ERA leads the team.
“Your whole bullpen’s going to be big,” Hennon said. “The teams I’ve been a part of as a player or a coach that have made a deep run in the tournament have all pitched well. You’ve got to pitch and play defense, execute and manufacture runs.”
The GSU side of the bracket features ASU, No. 1 Western Carolina and No. 8 Furman, which advanced to the field of eight with an 11-inning play-in win over UNC Greensboro on Tuesday.
Two teams got last weekend off — the Eagles and Elon — but Hennon said any advantage the extra rest allowed for will be over once the first pitch is thrown.
“When it comes down to it, whether you just played the day before or you’ve had a week off, it’s tournament baseball,” Hennon said. “Kids are going to be excited to be playing and they’re ready. You just go play.”
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-4908.