After ranking among the top pitchers in the nation for most of the season, Georgia Southern senior Tyler Owens struggled a bit down the stretch. Eagle head coach Rodney Hennon never wavered in his faith in Owens being able to flip the switch in the postseason.
In Wednesday’s do or die matchup with Georgia State, Owens came through, allowing only two hits and one run while striking out eight and leading the Eagles to a 10-1 victory and securing them of a spot in Saturday’s Sun Belt tournament semifinal.
“Tyler has been in this position before and was able to come through for us,” said Hennon. “In 2019 he closed the season with a couple tough outings, but he was able to put that behind him and stepped up and gave us a huge performance against Troy. He is an older veteran guy and I feel like this is one of the reasons he and the other seniors from last year came back and we definitely trust him with the ball.”
Georgia State took a 1-0 lead on a solo home run by Blaine Marchman in the top of the second, but from there it was all Eagles. Steven Curry gave Georgia Southern a 3-1 lead with a three-run homer in the bottom of the second which Hennon felt provided a huge swing of momentum.
“You want to score first, and they got the big home run from Marchman to start the scoring,” said Hennon. “You have to answer. We had men on base those first two innings and you are just waiting for someone to come through and Steve was able to do that. I feel like that kind of calmed everyone down and jumpstarted us a little bit.”
The Eagles added another run in the bottom of the third as with the bases loaded and no out J.P. Tighe hit into what looked to be a routine double play, but after getting the force at second Kalen Puckett threw the ball away allowing two runs to score and giving the Eagles a 5-1 lead. Parker Biederer added an RBI single to center to stretch the Georgia Southern lead to 6-1.
Another Panther miscue brought the next run across as a failed pickoff attempt allowed Austin Thompson to score from third to make it 7-1 at the end of the fifth,
The Eagles scored three insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth to put things away. Curry added another RBI with a single to right which plated Biederer. Christian Avant then hit a triple to center to plate Curry and make it 9-1. Noah Ledford capped the scoring with an RBI single to center for the final of 10-1.
“I’m proud of our team for getting it done today,” said Hennon. “We took advantage of some of their mistakes and had a few of our seniors really step up today. We played solid in the field and got solid pitching from everyone we brought in.”
Hennon took Owens out with two on in the sixth. Jeremiah Parker ended up loading the bases but was able to get out of the inning with a strikeout. Jay Thomson pitched the seventh and was relieved with two out in the eighth by Nick Jones. The nation’s leader in saves, Jones went the rest of the way in a non-save situation.
“You don’t take anything for granted,” said Hennon. “Those guys over there play hard. They have had some games in the past that they have come back from so you have to finish the game off. You don’t want to give a team life, or any momentum and we felt we needed to run the guys out there to get it done.”
One factor that made that decision even easier for Hennon was that the Eagles have already wrapped up a spot in the semifinals and don’t have to use some of their key pitchers in Friday’s game with ULM. The way the pool play was decided is if two teams tie with records of 1-1 the higher seed advances. The Eagles still want to win Friday, but Hennon hinted that it may not be the usual pitchers on the mound.
“I think it presents a good opportunity for guys to get out there and get some tournament experience,” said Hennon. “There is a chance we could still use those guys on Saturday, or of we are fortunate enough to make it to Sunday we could use hem then. Obviously, we have to do what sets us up best for Saturday from a pitching standpoint, but we are still going to go out there and compete and do the things we need to do to win the ballgame.”
The Eagles will face off against ULM Friday at 8 p.m. The Eagles will then take on the winner of Pool-C which will be either No. 1 seeded Louisiana or No. 4 seeded Appalachian State. The semifinal game will be Saturday at 4 p.m. in Montgomery.