CHARLESTON, S.C. — It was only the semifinals of the Southern Conference Tournament, but everything about it felt like a championship game.
College of Charleston had an early 2-0 lead, and a late grand slam made things interesting, but the fourth-seeded Georgia Southern Eagles held on for a 7-6 win Saturday at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park.
The Eagles (35-24) will face No. 3 Samford today at 2 p.m. for the SoCon title and an automatic bid to the NCAA regionals.
Georgia Southern eliminated the Cougars (39-22), who were one win away from number 40.
"It means a lot for us. We’ve been going at it with those guys all year," said GSU right fielder Victor Roache, who hit his NCAA-leading 30th home run in the fourth inning. "We went down to their place and took two out of three [during the regular season]. We got two of three here. It means a lot beating those guys. They’re a good team every year, and it was a dogfight."
Josh Adams (9-6) got the start, and he wasn’t informed of the decision until after Saturday morning’s 9-1 loss which kept Charleston alive and put GSU a game away from elimination.
"He pitched well against these guys earlier in the year," said GSU coach Rodney Hennon. "When he’s ahead, throwing strikes and throwing a lot of ground balls, he’s tough to beat. He really battled and competed for us today."
"When they threw me out there, I was ready," added Adams. "I was in the zone."
Adams went deep into the game, pitching 7.1 innings. The Cougars scattered seven hits and tagged him with four earned runs, although three of them came off of reliever Jaret Leverett, who replaced Adams with the bases loaded in the top of the eighth.
Leverett gave up a grand slam to Charleston’s Marty Gantt, who blasted a 2-2 pitch over the fence in right field to cut GSU’s lead to 7-6.
Leverett responded by earning the save and retiring the last five Charleston batters of the game.
"Gantt is a great player. If you watched that guy this week, he’s got a great approach at the plate," said Hennon. "I thought Leverett pitched great for us coming out of the bullpen. It was a good piece of hitting to hit the grand slam, but the way Jarett responded, it says a lot about him."
The Cougars took an early 2-0 lead, plating a pair of runs in the third before putting ruunners on second and third with two outs.
Rob Harding scored unearned, and Charleston plated its only earned run off of Adams when Harding’s double drove in Daniel Aldrich, the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year, after Aldrich recorded his first base hit of the tournament.
The Eagles tied it up in the third, when Shawn Payne scored on an RBI single by Victor Roache. Eric Phillips stole third and scored when Steve Cochrane grounded into a double play.
Tied at 2-2 in the fourth, GSU took its first lead of the day.
Scooter Williams reached on a fielder’s choice when an attempted sacrifice bunt to get Brent Pugh to second resulted in the lead runner being forced out at second.
Payne tripled in Williams, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Phillips that made it 4-2.
Payne narrowly avoided the tag at home, and cleared the bases for Roache, who had already been walked three times and hit by two pitches in the tournament.
"There’s two outs, there’s nobody on," Roache said, ‘and you know you’re going to see some pitches. So that’s when you just get in there, relax and have fun."
On an 0-2 count, Roache hit what he believes may have been the longest of his NCAA-best 30 homers this season.
"As soon as I barreled it up, I was like, ‘Yeah, that was a pretty good shot,’" he said.
Georgia Southern made it 7-2 in the seventh when Ben Morgan doubled home Michael Burruss, stole third and scored on a throwing error.
Gantt’s grand slam in the eighth wasn’t quite enough to keep GSU from advancing to the championship.
We’re very motivated," said Roache. "We’re just going to have to pitch and play defense all day long [today against Samford]. If we do that, we’ll put ourselves in a very good position to win.
Chris Beck, who got the win in Wednesday’s win over Charleston, is the potential starter today against the Bulldogs.
(5) Charleston 9, (4) Ga. Southern 1
College of Charleston’s Jake Zokan pitched eight innings and allowed only five hits and an earned run while striking out seven as the Cougars fought off elimination with a 9-1 win over Georgia Southern in Saturday’s first semifinal matchup in the 2011 Southern Conference Tournament at Joseph P. R iley, Jr. Park.
The Cougars (39-21) scored four runs in the fifth off of GSU starter Matt Murray and four more in the sixth off relief pitcher Joe Lower.
The Eagles (34-24) got doubles out of Tom Richardson, Eric Phillips, Ben Morgan and Scooter Williams, and the only run came in the eighth when Williams drove in Morgan to cut the Charleston lead to 8-1.
Rob Kral hit a solo homer off of GSU’s Chris Myers for the final scoring margin.
Murray (4-3), who won the Southern Conference Pitcher of the year honor as a closer for the Eagles, got his second start of the season, pitching four scoreless innings before Charleston’s four-run fifth.
Charleston lost to GSU, 4-2, in the tournament opener, but defeated Elon and Western Carolina to get to the semifinals against the Eagles.
(3) Samford 2, (6) App. State 1
The third-seeded Samford Bulldogs (37-22) earned a spot in the Southern Conference title game, pitching their way to a 2-1 victory over No. 6 Appalachian State Saturday morning at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park.
The Mountaineers (33-27) scattered seven hits on Samford starter Josh Martin, but only managed one run. Zack Briggs knocked an RBI double to right to give ASU a 1-0 lead after two innings.
Martin pitched 6.1 innings, and Samford used three relievers to finish the game.
The Bulldogs tied the contest in the fourth when an RBI double off the bat of Phillip Ervin drove in Brandon Miller.
The game-winner came off a bunt single by Michael Johnson that allowed Brandon Powell to score from third and put the Bulldogs ahead by a run.
Samford will face No. 4 Georgia Southern in a single game for the Southern Conference Championship today at 2 p.m.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.
For complete coverage of the 2011 Southern Conference baseball tournament, visit the official Herald website at www.statesboroherald.com. You can also receive live updates from Matt Yogus on his twitter account by following @myogus.
For complete coverage of the 2011 Southern Conference baseball tournament, visit the official Herald website at www.statesboroherald.com.
You can also receive live updates from Matt Yogus on his twitter account by following @myogus.