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Up and down season leads into SoCon tournament

It's hard to imagine a season with a bigger gap between the lowest low and highest high than the 2013 Georgia Southern baseball regular season.
    What began as a group of scrappy-yet-tenacious overachievers in February quickly spiraled into the seventh seed in the eight-team Southern Conference tournament in May.
    The Eagles (25-30, 13-17 SoCon) shocked the college baseball world — if not themselves — by exploding out of the gate with a series win over Georgia, a road win at Florida and a split with Indiana. Before they knew it, they were 18-7 and 9-1 in the SoCon, and ranked in the Top 25.
    Some time around back-to-back road losses at UNC Greensboro, the wheels started coming off.
    Some simple arithmetic shows that ever since GSU showed up in the polls, it has gone 7-23, and 4-16 in conference play.
    So, what happened?
    The Eagles haven't had any major, in-season injuries, except outfielder Hunter Thomas. But it's hard to point to the loss of Thomas as the reason for the struggles, because his replacement, Robbie Dodds, has the highest batting average on the team (.323).
    Speaking of stats, the Eagles are collectively hitting at a .261 clip — not very good considering they're allowed to use metal bats — but that's not much lower than it was when they were beating up on the SEC East.
    The team earned-run average is sitting at 5.49 which, when you're allowed to use metal bats, isn't all that bad, and better than many successful GSU teams in the past.
    The records of the starting pitchers are probably the most telling stat. No weekend starter has a winning record. That's a big deal.
    It's not an indictment of those guys. They've pitched well. But Justin Hess, Sam Howard, Jason Richman and Josh Stevenson are a combined 15-22. The winning percentage isn't what's important about that stat. The important part is the fact that there are 37 decisions among the four starters.
    That speaks to a lack of depth.
    Before the season started, GSU coach Rodney Hennon said he was happy with every arm he had. He just wished he had more.
    Take a lack of depth on the mound, nagging injuries — most notably to closer Kyle Rowe — add a lack of depth behind the plate, and sprinkle in some pretty good bats that have been asked to do way too much this year, and the picture of how the team went from the Top 25 to a sub-.500 record gets pretty clear.
    It's been a head-scratcher of a season for Hennon, who has never won fewer than 31 games in a season, and has never had a losing record as a head coach.
    It'll take more than one miracle for that streak — 15 years — to continue.
    The Eagles are certainly capable of being a very good mid-major team. Obviously, they're very capable of getting beaten, too.
    The guys who have been getting it done all year — Hess, Howard, Rowe, Dodds, Ben Morgan and T.D. Davis — are going to have to show up in the Southern Conference tournament if the Eagles are going to turn the ship around.
    Otherwise, it could be a short trip to Greenville, something that seemed impossible just two months ago.

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