That crash you just heard was Georgia Southern’s national title hopes hitting the floor — suddenly, loudly and shockingly.
It was a sad end to the 2009 season for the Eagles and anyone who had been following this team since Feb. 20 or had jumped on the bandwagon since the Southern Conference Championship.
What has to be so disheartening to this team and their loyal fans is not that it happened — but how it happened.
Pitching and defense, two staples that had gotten the blue-and-white to the postseason, was lost on the way out to Fullerton like a brown suitcase circling the conveyor belt at the airport.
If GSU had it to do all over again, they could take the boys from Gonzaga and Utah would’ve never come close to putting up 11 runs to send Southern packing.
But you only get one chance, and for whatever reason, the Eagles let that chance slip away.
That’s the bad news. The good news is is that GSU still has plenty to look forward to heading into 2010.
The entire pitching staff returns — save for closer Kyle Kamppi and whichever players are drafted and decide to leave. That means as much as 93 percent of the arms from this year’s squad will suit it up again next spring. Add some prospects and recruits and GSU shouldn’t miss a beat.
Offensively, four bats — and four of the best in school history — will depart from the starting lineup. They’ll be no replacing Griffin Benedict, Ty Wright, Phillip Porter and Brian Pierce, but A.J. Wirnsberger, Kevin Bowles, Eric Phillips and Kyle Blackburn have plenty of firepower to carry the load.
Add all that to the intangibles. Georgia Southern learned how to come from behind, learned how to win a championship and learned what it takes to play in – and possibly win – an NCAA Regional.
Furthermore, fans can take solace in the fact that Georgia Southern wasn’t the only No. 2 seed to fail to advance past the first weekend on the way to Omaha: Alabama, SoCon rival Elon, Minnesota, Texas State, Texas A&M, Miami, Oral Roberts, Coastal Carolina, Middle Tennessee State, Arkansas, Missouri and even that team to the North all went home early.
All the parts are there for another successful season in 2010 and the Eagles have now made a name for themselves as a dangerous team to be reckoned with. Let’s hope for their sake they play a few more weeks in 2010 than they did in 2009.
I’d like to take a moment to congratulate all the recent Bulloch County student-athletes who graduated this past weekend.
As the local sports writer, I spend an awful lot of time watching kids grow, compete, win, lose and walk away in four quick years.
I could write an exhaustive list of young men and women who I saw play as seniors this year and who I remember as freshman and sophomores just a short time ago.
Instead, I’ll send my well wishes to all of you as one. Whether you were the backup point guard, the star pitcher or the under-sized special-teamer with more heart than his teammates combined — thanks for the memories.
Two weeks ago we went 4-1 picking the SoCon, NBA and NHL. Yes, that is impressive, faithful reader. Now come with me as I show the future once more.
Let’s start with the NHL. Detroit’s already up 2-0 going into tonight, but Pittsburgh’s back home and has been inches away from making things interesting each night.
The Penguins will come back to take a 3-2 lead in the series before the Wings close them out in seven.
In the NBA, LeBron is pouting and the league is bummin’. No Kobe vs. King James, no Lakers-Cavs, no ratings dream.
Instead, some team from Orlando with a freak of a man named Howard gets to take their shot at L.A.
Everyone interested is taking the Lakers in six while rooting for the Magic to pull off the upset. I’ll do you one better: Magic and the physical Howard upset the Lakers in six.
Overall mark for the year: 8-6.