I don’t think anybody saw that one coming.
The No. 3 seed Georgia Southern Eagles went to Charleston with high hopes for the 2010 Southern Conference baseball tournament, and fell mightily at the hands of No. 6 Western Carolina and No. 7 Appalachian State.
If it’s any consolation, the Catamounts made it all the way to the championship game and ASU was a run away from getting there in its own right.
Not to mention, Western took two-of-three from GSU during the regular season — at J.I. Clements no less.
Didn’t think so.
The Catamounts, it seemed, did everything they wanted to do in the 11-4 win that sent the Eagles to the losers’ bracket, and it was four unearned runs by the Mountaineers that eliminated GSU in — you guessed it — a four-run, 6-2 ballgame.
Perhaps the worst part about it is that before the tourney, the Eagles got swept by The Citadel — your 2010 SoCon champions — to spark a five-game, season-ending losing streak which, incidentally, was the longest GSU losing streak since the 2007 season.
Talk about adding insult to injury.
So obviously the season ended badly, and looking back on the 1-4 start that had everyone wondering if they were about to witness Rodney Hennon’s first-ever losing season, it started badly, too.
After you wash the taste of what happened in Charleston out of your mouth and look at the body of work as a whole, you start to see the 2010 season for the rebuilding year it really was.
Entering the season, Georgia Southern had a lot of digging to do and a lot of holes to fill. Defensively, Hennon had to replace his entire outfield, the ace-in-the-hole righty Chris Mederos, the best shortstop in the SoCon, Brian Pierce, who happened to be a four-year starter at the position, and arguably the best catcher in the country, Griffin Benedict.
The outfield questions were answered by a junior-college shortstop playing centerfield (Shawn Payne), a pair of high-school right fielders (Arthur Owens and Victor Roache) and a reserve who came in as a catcher (Steve Cochrane).
Jake Brown took over the ace duties on the mound and did a very-good-but-not-great job of finishing the year at or near the top of the conference in nearly every pitching category. The starting pitching was decent all year long, and other key roles on the mound were filled by a pair of true freshmen — Justin Hess who at one point came two outs away from a perfect game — and Chris Myers, who came into the program as a catcher.
Speaking of catcher, Benedict’s role was inherited by Randy J. Williams, a senior who had up to this season been known as the guy who gave Griffin’s legs a break every once in a while, and a redshirt freshman named Michael Burruss.
Shortstop was inherited by Eric Phillips, who had previously played every position on the infield at GSU with the exception of, it figures, shortstop.
Offensively, the Eagles lost one heck of a lot of fire power from 2009.
Somehow, they had to replace the bats of Benedict (.412, 14 HR, 65 RBI, .528 OBP), Pierce (.362, 43 RBI), Ty Wright (.339, 13 HR, 63 RBI) and Phillip Porter (.362, 11 HR, 51 RBI).
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 222 RBIs leaving the batting order. They also combined for a whopping 247 runs.
The power numbers weren’t going to be what they were in 2009, that much was clear, though Roache, Phillips and seniors Kyle Blackburn and A.J. Wirnsberger did their part.
Kevin Bowles did what he does, plugging along in the two-hole and not striking out and Burruss — the eventual designated hitter — and Williams looked like their seasons were going nowhere fast before exploding in the second half to each flirt with a .300 batting average.
The most pleasant surprises, however, were the contributions of newcomers Payne (.345, 68 R, 43 SB) and Owens (.313, .408 OBP).
I guess the point I’m trying to make is, if you look at the season as a whole, as the rebuilding year it was, 34-24 doesn’t seem so bad. And if you remove the bookends of the first and last five games, those young Eagles looked downright good at times.
The question at hand now lies in whether or not the Eagles, after losing Blackburn, Wirnsberger, Brown, closer Dexter Bobo (who pitched a gem in his only career start at the tourney), Bowles and Williams to graduation and the likely early departure of Payne to the MLB Draft, can reload next year without having to rebuild.
Starters Matt Murray and Andy Moye, as well as injured Chris Beck, Hess and Myers, plus Owens, Roache, Phillips, Burruss and Cochrane, will try to do just that.
One can hope that any contributions from the new guys will be a bonus and not a necessity.
Of course, this is Georgia Southern, where many fans often seem to hope for the best, try to expect the worst, and fly off the cuff when “the best” doesn’t happen. If “the worst” is a 34-win season and a SoCon tourney collapse, there’s no telling that “the best” can be.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.