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Eagles ready for SoCon Tourney
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    The Georgia Southern softball team opens Southern Conference tournament play today, facing Western Carolina at 3 p.m. in Greensboro, N.C. The Lady Eagles, the defending SoCon tournament champions, know that the rest of the eight-team field will be gunning for them this week.
    “The one thing they do know is that we will come to fight,” said GSU coach Natalie Poole. “I don’t think anyone will take us lightly. We will go out there and fight and I think people know we’re not going to give up.”
    The Lady Eagles (9-11, 24-30) made an improbable run to the championship  game in 2006, winning five games in three days after losing the tourney opener. They enter this years playoffs as the league’s four seed, winning a three-way tiebreaker as the fourth-best team.
    “We know anybody can win it,” said Poole. “Including our own team. I think that last year was a step for us because they believe that no matter what, when you get to the tournament, it’s a new ball game. If you want it and you fight for it, it’s possible to obtain it.”
    Southern comes into the tourney having lost six-of-nine. The Eagle lost two-of-three to Western (9-11, 26-31) at the end of April in Cullowhee, N.C.
    “They’re going to be aggressive at the plate and they’re going to pitch well,” said Poole of the Catamounts. “They’re a good team and they’re competitive. We’re going to have to show up and play well.”
    Win or lose in the first round, the Eagles will face either Chattanooga (No. 1) or host UNC Greensboro (No. 8) on Day Two. Poole said familiarity at this stage of the season gives everyone a fair shot.
    “By now everyone is settled in and what you’re seeing is habit,” said the sixth year head coach. “There’s not any surprises. We pretty much feel we’re educated on each team.”
    Lindsey Hopkins leads GSU into the tournament by leading the squad in average, hits and runs scored. Heather Smith has a team-high 24 RBIs and is tied for fourth in the SoCon with 10 doubles.
    Melissa Laliberte (9-13, 2.51), Logan Free (9-13, 3.20) and A.J. Street (5-4, 2.52) comprise the Eagles’ pitching staff.
    The tournament is double elimination with the championship game scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m.

    Chad Bishop can be reached at (912) 489-9408.