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SoCon race heating up as Eagles visit Furman

    Things haven’t gone as planned for Georgia Southern ever since Southern Conference play began, and lot has changed since the Eagles were 15-2 and opening their SoCon schedule at Elon.
    Since then, GSU has gone 13-17 and 10-11 in conference play, has seen four players suspended and two — senior pitcher Will Middour and freshman Aaron Palmer — get kicked off the team. Another, Robbie Dodds, quit for personal reasons.
    Now instead of fighting to get into the Top 25 and leading the nation in batting average and home runs, the Eagles (28-19) are fighting to stay out of the SoCon tournament’s play-in round.
    Despite owning the second-most overall wins in the SoCon, the Eagles sit in sixth place with six conference games remaining. To stay out of the play-in round, in which the bottom four teams face each other in a single-elimination game to open the tournament, the Eagles have to fight off UNC Greensboro (20-19, 7-8) and Furman (18-25, 7-10).
    They face Furman in a three-game series beginning today at 7 p.m., in Greenville, S.C.   
    “The biggest thing we’ve got to do is just focus on winning the next game,” GSU coach Rodney Hennon said. “If we can take care of our business we’ll be in good shape as far as (the play-in game) goes.”
    If things haven’t gone how the Eagles have planned, the 2014 season has really gone differently than expected for freshman infielder Cal Baker.
    Baker was practicing with the team and redshirting, expecting four years of eligibility beginning in 2015. That is, until Palmer was removed from the program.
    “He’s doing the things we need him to do,” Hennon said about Baker. “Obviously the plan was to redshirt him coming into the year, and as those things happened we were forced to pull the redshirt and throw him into the fire. The big thing we need from him is to be consistent on defense and make the routine plays, and he’s done a good job of that.”
    Baker has struggled at the plate but flourished in the field, and his at-bats have improved over his eight starts.
    Hennon hasn’t been overly surprised.
    “Even when he was in redshirt status, he was coming to the park every day like he was going to play,” Hennon said. “That’s paid off for him and it’s why he’s been able to help us out.”
    Furman, which started SoCon play just 2-7, has come on of late, sweeping a rain-shortened series against Wofford and taking two of three from second-place Western Carolina.
    The play-in spots could still go to just about anybody, with third through seventh place separated by only three games and three weekends remaining in the regular season.
    The SoCon tournament begins on Tuesday, May 20.

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