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Softball Eagles back in regional

Two seasons. Two Southern Conference softball titles. Two trips to the NCAA regionals.
    Not a bad resume for head Georgia Southern coach Annie Smith.
    With plenty of drama, including 22 innings in less than 24 hours and a walkoff homer by Kourtny Thomas in the 11th inning of the SoCon title game against UNC Greensboro, Smith and the Eagles have done it again.
    It's always said that the team with the best pitcher has the best shot.
    That's probably true, but the Eagles proved that theory wrong — sort of.
    The Eagles do have the best pitcher, two-time SoCon Pitcher of the Year Sarah Purvis, but it wasn't all Purvis this time.
    Facing elimination — twice — Georgia Southern needed 11 innings just to get to the championship game by beating Charleston in the semifinals. In that game, it was sophomore pither Brooke Red, who went the distance, striking out 10 and allowing two runs on nine hits in a carer-high 11 innings.
    Let's not forget about last season's Freshman of the Year, Allie Miles, either.
    Purvis wrapped up the tournament with an 11-inning shutout in the title game.
    Now, Georgia Southern's got a tough task ahead of it. The Eagles are going to the Gainesville regional of the NCAA tournament this weekend, along with Florida — the entire field's No. 2 seed and No. 1 seed of the regional — and then there's South Florida and Hampton.
    It's no easy task to get through that regional, and the Eagles' bats are down a bit from their dominant 2012 season.
    But, they've got pitching. Will they have the best pitching in the NCAA tournament? No. The Gainesville regional? Probably not.
    But when you can make the other team work for it's scoring, anything can happen.
    Sarah Purvis has pitched a perfect game this season. The Eagles lost to defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Alabama 2-1 in nine innings earlier this year.
    They lost a pair of 2-1 games to North Carolina and Coastal Carolina in the 2012 Athens regional.
    In other words, they're close.
    And they're certainly not intimidated.
    It was almost too easy in 2012, when the Eagles dominated the SoCon and were the clear-cut favorites in the SoCon tournament. They went 42-20 and 22-2 in the league.
    This time around, though, there was a lot of parity. The Eagles ended up with the No. 3 seed. They didn't have Marie Fogle (.397, 9 HR, 30 RBIs in 2012).
    They had to work for their scoring, too.
    But the regionals will be interesting. The Eagles have shown that with great pitching, good defense and a good approach at the plate, anything can happen.
    And if South Florida's not careful on Friday, GSU has shown a little bit of pop in the bats, too.

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