In its final season as a member of the Southern Conference, Georgia Southern is the unanimous pick by the league’s coaches to win the softball championship.
Annie Smith has lead the Eagles to the SoCon title in each of her first two seasons as the program’s head coach, and being the preseason favorite only changes one thing.
“Being the favorite just means you have a target on your back,” Smith said.
The Eagles are packed with upperclassmen — 13 to be exact — including back-to-back SoCon Pitcher of the Year Sarah Purvis, who threw two perfect games in 2013 including a 3-0 win against Hampton in the Gainesville, Fla., region of the NCAA tournament.
They are the only two perfect games in GSU history.
Allie Miles, Brooke Red and Marla Thompson round out a pitching staff with 14 combined seasons of experience, taking a lot of pressure off of Purvis.
“It’s a pitching staff,” Smith said. “Brooke won the (2013 SoCon semifinal game against College of Charleston) in 11 innings, Allie won the championship game two years ago, Marla’s won some big game for us. We went 22-2 in conference a few years ago. You have to have a good staff to have a good team. Purvis does great things for us, but it’s not just her.”
Georgia Southern opens the 2014 campaign today, hosting Oakland, Northern Colorado and preseason No. 1 Tennessee in the Eagle Round Robin Tournament, which runs through Sunday.
Oakland and Northern Colorado are a bit of a mystery, with first-year head coaches at the helm of both programs. There’s no mystery with Tennessee.
“They’re preseason number one. They’re good. And we know that,” Smith said. “What an opportunity that we get to play them.”
GSU’s non-conference schedule was ranked 27th toughest in the country last season, and this season’s slate may even be tougher.
The Eagles face Tennessee at 5 p.m., on Saturday at Eagle Field, and again at Tennessee’s tournament on March 9. They will also face Georgia, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina from the SEC. Other tough non-conference matchups include games against North Carolina, Indiana, Wisconsin and Coastal Carolina. They’ll also play games against Georgia State and Troy, members of GSU’s future home, the Sun Belt Conference.
The Eagles would love to three-peat on their way out of the SoCon, but Smith’s goal is to make sure the team takes things a day at a time, and not worry about making any statements in the SoCon tournament just yet.
“We’re just trying to play the game,” she said. “I think if we play the game good things happen.”
Along with Purvis being named preseason Pitcher of the Year in the SoCon, Kourtny Thomas and Shelby Morrill were each given preseason honors.
Thomas hit a walkoff home run in 11th inning of the 2013 SoCon title game against UNC Greensboro to propel GSU to the championship. She led the Eagles with 12 homers last season.
Morrill batted .340 in 2013 adding seven home runs. She earned a second-team All-SoCon nod. Morrill will move to third base to start off the 2014 season.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.