Baseball is a game of rhythm and streaks. Lineups, pitching rotations and bullpen setup can all lead to success when a team finds just the right combination.
But in college baseball, those months of settling into routines are turned upside down as a hectic postseason schedule forces anything but the ordinary onto teams and players.
It’s in those times that heroes have to step up —going above and beyond the routine to give their team a chance to play another day. Sunday, with the Southern Conference championship game right in front of him and an eight-inning, 125-pitch winning performance just 83 hours behind him, Chris Beck came up huge to send the Georgia Southern Eagles into the NCAA regionals.
Starting on short rest for the first time in his college career, the GSU coaching staff couldn’t be sure how long they could count on their ace and had every reason to be concerned as SoCon Pitcher of the Year Matt Murray had already been ruled unavailable after throwing five innings the day before.
Despite high temperatures, short rest, and what had to be crushing pressure, Beck never looked to be the least bit phased. He rolled through early innings, kept his pitch count low, and shook off a couple of errors in the fourth inning that put a Samford’s only runner in scoring position.
In the end, when players, coaches and fans were expecting anything and everything to be done to punch a ticket to the next round, Beck was a model of consistency. He put the Eagles on his shoulders, making GSU’s solitary run in the championship game stand up as he threw the game of his life. He allowed just three Samford hits in a 1-0 victory that landed the Eagles in the Columbia, S.C. regional where they will face defending-national-champion South Carolina Friday.
In a game where even the tiniest shift in setting or routine can spell disaster for a pitcher, Beck’s performance went much farther than just the statistics. With only 35 wins on the season entering play Sunday, the lingering thought had to be in the Eagles’ minds that a loss would mean the end of their season. Add to that the fact that Samford spent the majority of Saturday in its hotel while GSU sweated out two games against Charleston, and there was every reason to expect a tired, tight pitcher to show up on the mound in the biggest game of the year.
Beck must not have received that message, as every quick out and solid defensive play seemed to reenergize his electric right arm. When Samford ace Lex Rutledge — also starting on short rest — exited the game in the fifth inning after throwing less than 70 pitches, Beck trotted back onto the field with an even greater look of determination.
As the scorching afternoon wore on, the middle innings melted into the final frames and what had been a huge question mark before first pitch was replaced by what seemed an inevitable certainty — Beck wasn’t going anywhere and there was nothing that the Samford Bulldogs could do about it.
With two outs in the ninth inning, Samford fired its last bullet, notching a single to put Beck in the closest thing to a jam he faced all day. But that — just like every other obstacle staring him in the face before the game — was brushed aside as Beck fanned Samford cleanup hitter Brandon Miller for the fourth time in the game to clinch the SoCon title.
Asked what he threw to strike out Miller, Beck replied that he didn’t know. That he was tired and just trying to do something to get one last out.
He might not have been sure, but it seemed obvious from the stands.
In the Eagles’ biggest game of the season, the final pitch was the same as everything else Beck did Sunday — whatever his team needed.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 498-9404.