The Georgia Southern baseball players have been flying high since getting the news Sunday night that they would be hosting the first NCAA Regional in school history. The Eagles have had to try and patiently wait for Friday to get everything started as they take on No. 4 seed UNC Greensboro at 7:00 at J.I. Clements stadium.
“We are all just so amped up because it is just a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Eagle pitcher Jay Thompson. “A lot of us have been on social media seeing how everyone is pumped up and trying to get tickets. It is going to be a great time and we are so looking forward to starting things Friday.”
“When we found out that it was sold out, we all just got so excited,” said Eagle first baseman Jason Swan. “To know we are going to break an attendance record is amazing. Our crowds get us going and are already really loud and rowdy. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like Friday.”
Speaking of being fired up one of the keys to success this year for Georgia Southern has been their attitude of never giving up which is best exemplified by infielder Jesse Sherrill. Sherrill is one of the more vocal leaders of the team and takes great pride in getting on base by whatever means necessary evident in his .497 OBP which is aided by 17 hit by pitches.
“We talked about being a really tough group before the season,” said Sherrill. “Being a tough group includes not getting out of the way when a pitch is coming at you. I took one off the head against UCF and was out for four games but getting on base any way I can is the way I play. I know when I can get on, then Swan is there behind me to get me in or move me over and it just brings the energy up.”
While Sherrill’s stats are impressive the Eagles don’t really have a position player or a pitcher whose stats jump off the page. What coach Hennon has felt has been one of the keys to the Eagles success is their professionalism and the fact that there are not a lot of egos on the team.
“There is really good leadership within the team from the older guys, and for the most part I just stay out the way,” said Hennon. “This is such an unselfish group and all they care about when they come to the field is winning baseball games. They aren’t concerned with who gets the credit or their stats they just want to win.”
Hennon pointed to the current situation at catcher as an example of the unselfishness where Kyler Hultgren and J.P. Tighe have been splitting time.
“Those two are a great example of what is going on with this team,” said Hennon. “If you go look at our dugout when one of them is playing and no one is cheering louder for the one that is playing than the one in the dugout. Guys have accepted whatever roles we have asked of them to take on because they want to do what is best for the team to win.”
The Eagles finished the conference series despondent in their dugout after their loss in the title game, while their opponent Friday was a team that was celebrating on the field after their last game.
UNC Greensboro earned their way to Statesboro the hard way having to play three doubleheaders and then sweep top seeded Wofford in the Southern Conference championship game Sunday.
“It was pretty impressive what UNCG did to win the Southern Conference,” said Hennon. “They are playing their best baseball of the year coming in here. To have to have played so many games in that short span is amazing. They have a really good offense and are well coached.”
The Spartans and Eagles have not played since their Southern Conference days in 2014 when the Spartans took two out of three against the Eagles in Statesboro. UNCG coach Billy Godwin was not with the Spartans at that time but he has been to Statesboro as he was the coach at East Carolina when the Pirates visited Statesboro in 2009 where the Eagles beat ECU 14-4.
“I have known Billy Godwin for quite a while,” said Hennon. “He has been down to Statesboro before when he was at East Carolina so he is familiar with our park. He is a really good coach and we expect a battle Friday.”
The pitching matchup Friday should be a good one as the teams roll out their two aces. Ty Fisher (5-2, 2.87 ERA) will take the mound for the Eagles while the Spartans counter with Austin Parsley (10-4, 3.67 ERA).
We really have to go out and get a good effort from Ty,” said Hennon. “We are also going to have to rely on some of the guys in the bullpen. Defensively we are going to have to make the routine plays and offensively we have to be able to do the little things. When we have opportunities to score, we are going to have to be able to execute and get that two-out hit when you need it.”