Advancing to the eight-team Southern Conference Baseball Tournament as the No. 6 seed is not what Georgia Southern head coach Rodney Hennon envisioned at the start of this season.
After all, his Eagles finished 36-26 last season, winning the SoCon Tournament championship for the second time in three years. Statesboro was abuzz about the damage GSU would do in the tournament this season, especially with consensus All-American slugger Victor Roache returning.
But Roache suffered a broken left wrist six games into the season and has been sidelined, and GSU managed a record of 30-26 overall, 15-15 in the SoCon. Hennon on Tuesday night said Roache will not play in the SoCon Tournament.
“He’s not on the 27-man roster this weekend,” Hennon said. “He hasn’t been cleared. He’s still a little ways away.”
No, this is not at all the way Hennon imagined his team would arrive in Greenville, S.C., but the important thing is that GSU qualified. Hennon believes anything is possible.
GSU will play No. 3 seed Elon (31-24, 20-10) at 1 p.m. today at Fluor Field.
“I think everybody is excited to be here,” Hennon said. “Obviously, it’s a new season. Really, when you talk about tournament baseball it really is a new season for everybody that’s here, all eight teams. It’s a great opportunity for our team. You’ve just got to take it one game at a time. I know that’s cliché but that’s true. You’ve just got to focus on the next game you play. And for us, drawing Elon in the first game we play, we need to go out and play well (today) and do the things we need to do to put ourselves in position to win.
“You want to stay in that winner’s bracket. That first one’s important.”
GSU practiced at Fluor Field on Tuesday morning. Fluor Field, which opened in 2006, is home to the Greenville Drive, a Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. The ballpark has its own Green Monster, a 30-foot high wall in left field that is a miniature version of the one at Fenway Park.
“We had a good workout,” Hennon said. “Just took a round of batting practice and hit some fly balls, just trying to get used to the field and the surroundings there. You know, you’ve got that Green Monster in left field, so we tried to hit a few balls off that for (Michael) Burruss out in left field, just to get a feel for how the ball comes off there.”
GSU is making its 21st consecutive SoCon Tournament appearance. The Eagles have played in every tournament since joining the SoCon for baseball in 1992. GSU and Elon played in the first championship game at Fluor Field. In 2009, Kyle Blackburn’s three-run homer over the Green Monster led GSU to a 7-3 victory in the championship game and the Eagles advanced to the Fullerton Regional.
This season, GSU was swept by Elon in three games at Elon, N.C. The Eagles lost, 4-3, 7-2 and 7-6, on March 9-11.
Hennon said consensus preseason All-American Chris Beck (5-7, 3.79 earned-run average) will start on the mound for GSU today. Beck likely will face Elon starter Dylan Clark (9-3, 3.43 ERA).
“We’ve just got to execute,” Hennon said. “We need Chris to go out and make pitches and work ahead in the count. And we’ve got to play good defense behind him. What I mean by that is just making the routine plays.”
GSU is led by senior Eric Phillips, who leads the SoCon in batting average (.393) and hits (86). Chase Griffin, the SoCon Freshman of the Year, leads the Eagles in home runs (10) and is hitting .306. T.D. Davis is hitting .304 and is third on the team in hits (59) behind Phillips and Burruss (66).
“Offensively, we’re going to have to find ways to manufacture and score runs when we get runners in scoring position,” Hennon said. “It’s not about home runs.
“Offensively, we’re not a team right now that is going to sit back and wait for somebody to drive a ball in the gap or drive the ball out of the yard. We’re going to have to be a team that executes very well with a lot of those little things, and maybe have to take some chances at times. If we get some guys on base that can run, we may have to put guys in motion and take some chances.”
GSU’s Justin Hess (4-3, 4.02 ERA) is scheduled to pitch Thursday.
“In order to win a tournament it takes a total team effort," Hennon said. "It’s not nine guys. It’s not the same nine position guys. It’s not two or three pitchers. We’re going to need contributions from everybody.”
Noell Barnidge may be reached at (912) 489-9408.