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Play ball!
1st pitch of 2011 campaign today
051110 GSU BASEBALL 01
Georgia Southern shortstop Eric Phillips, top, comes running off the bag after completing a pickoff at second base of Charleston Southern runner Tom Burkett in the top of the seventh inning in this May 11, 2010 file photo at J.I. Clements Stadium. Phillips returns as the team's leading hitter, batting .342 in 58 starts, hitting seven home runs with 56 RBIs in 2010. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

When Georgia Southern dropped two straight games in the 2010 Southern Conference tournament, the Eagles were left with a bad taste in their mouths.

When juniors Shawn Payne and Andy Moye had their names called in the draft, things were looking worse.

Moye, a pitcher, and Payne, an outfielder and the SoCon’s leading base stealer with 43, decided they were going to come back for the 2011 season.

Of course, Moye may have a new role or two away from the mound.

"I don’t think he’s going to be an every-day guy necessarily, but I think there’s a chance he will see some time at [first base] and over at third as well," said GSU coach Rodney Hennon. "It certainly has given us some good depth and some good competition at those positions. Andy is just a good baseball player."

Moye and Matt Murray both return from the 2010 weekend rotation but a pair of relative newcomers will start the first two games of the season.

Chris Beck, who saw limited action in 12 appearances during his freshman campaign will start the season opener against George Washington today at 6 p.m. at J.I. Clements Stadium.

Josh Adams, a junior-college transfer from Spartanburg Methodist in Spartanburg, S.C., will start Saturday, and the Sunday starter is still to be determined.

"We felt like we could have gone with either one of those guys for game one," said Hennon about Beck and Adams. "We felt both were deserving."

Adams went 12-2 in two years at SMC and struck out 45 batters to 16 walks in 2010.

Justin Hess returns after starting seven games as a freshman last year, most notably the game against North Florida when he took a no-hitter 8.1 innings into the game in a 3-2 GSU win.

Offensively, the biggest change is with the equipment. The NCAA instituted new bats for the upcoming season that come closer to simulating wood.

"It’s still the same game," said Hennon. "I think the guys have gotten comfortable with the bats that we’re using. They’re swing bats with a lot of confidence. It’s just a lot of talk more than anything else. Without a doubt, the ball doesn’t jump off of there like it has in the past, the guys that hit home runs are still going to hit them."

The team’s two biggest deep threats in 2010, Kyle Blackburn and A.J. Wirnsberger, who combined for 27 homers and 124 RBIs, graduated.

Shortstop Eric Phillips (.342, 7 HR, 56 RBIs in 2010) returns as the team’s most productive hitter, and will be the only familiar face in the 2011 infield. Second baseman Ben Morgan, a freshman from Greenbrier, looks to get the nod to start the season and Hennon expects Moye, Steve Cochrane and Jesse Piccolo will join the infield.

Piccolo will also join sophomore Michael Burruss and junior-college transfer Tom Richardson behind the plate.

Burruss has also gotten looks in the outfield, along with familiar faces Payne, Arthur Owens, Cochrane and Victor Roache. Roache spent much of the offseason nursing a broken leg.

"We’ve been able to give him a little more each week," said Hennon, "and he’s pretty much full go right now. He’s been out there in the outfield, running the bases and sliding around."

The Eagles will play 14 of their first 16 games at home this season, including Top 25 sets against No. 19 Georgia Tech, No. 23 St. John’s and a single game at No. 1 Florida in Gainesville, Fla. on March 8.


Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.