SOCON CHAMPIONS AGAIN
GREENVILLE, S.C. For the first time since 2002, the Georgia Southern Baseball team is Southern Conference champions again.
Kyle Blackburn (Marietta/Walton), the 2009 Southern Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player, launched a 3-run homer and the pitching staff took care of the rest as Georgia Southern captured its fourth tournament title following a 7-3 win over 22nd-ranked Elon Sunday (May 24) at Fluor Field. The Eagles swept through the tournament field at 4-0, improving to 42-15 on the season.
It marks the third title under the direction of head coach Rodney Hennon. The Eagles receive the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Regionals, the site to be announced on Monday afternoon.
The game started out with a battle of the starting pitchers, Jimmy Reyes for Elon (40-16) and Chris Mederos (Valdosta/Gordon College) for the Eagles. Mederos - who fanned 12 in 7.1 innings during the opening round win over Davidson - scattered three Elon hits, did not walk a batter and fanned six in five scoreless innings of work.
Jimmy Reyes struck out six in five innings but was pulled in the sixth inning for J.D. Reichenbach, and the Eagles took advantage. Roman Grimaldi (Duluth/North Florida CC) battled back in the count to draw a leadoff walk. Phillip Porter (Marietta/Sprayberry) singled through the right side two batters later.
Blackburn launched a monster 3-run homer to right field, giving the Eagles a 3-0 lead. All six of Blackburn’s hits to that point in the SoCon Tournament had gone for extra bases, his 11th homer of the year and third on the week.
Immediately after the Blackburn homer, the rains started and the game went into a rain delay during Elon’s pitching change. The 2:09 rain delay did not cool down the Eagle offense.
In the seventh Jordan Darnell hit Brian Pierce (Roswell/Roswell) and Kevin Bowles (Statesboro/Statesboro) to start the inning. Ty Wright (Montrose/ABAC) walked to load the bases. Two batters later Griffin Benedict (Dunwoody/St. Pius) ripped a 2-run single down the left field line. A wild pitch brought another run home for a 6-0 lead.
The Phoenix finally got on the board in the eighth. Cory Harrilchak walked with the bases loaded for the Phoenix first run. Kyle Kamppi (Savannah/Benedictine) entered the game and got a grounder from Chase Austin for the final out and end the threat.
GS loaded the bases in the ninth, then scored a run when Eric Phillips (Carrollton/Carrollton) was hit by a pitch the seventh time Elon hit a GS batter in the game.
Needing just two more outs to close out the title, a double and hit batter put two runners on then a single loaded the bases. Dallas Tarleton hit a sacrifice fly for the second out but pinch-hitter Matt Hinson lined a RBI single making it 7-3. Harry Austin lifted a flyball to right, and when Porter made the final catch the Eagles rushed the field and the celebration started.
“The big thing about this team all year has been that at different points, we’ve had different guys step up at different times and contribute. That’s a great thing, especially when you get to the tournament. Hopefully that’s something that can help us as we move on,” said Hennon. “It feels great to be back on top. It’s been too long, and I’m glad to experience this with these guys. This is a great group of kids. Everybody sees what they do on the field, but what they do off the field and how they represent our team and the university is great. They’re a great group of young men.”
Mederos improved to 11-1 following his five innings of shutout ball. Andy Moye (Alpharetta/Alpharetta) pitched a scoreless sixth inning. Bobo gave up one run on three hits in 1.2 innings and Kamppi was charged for two runs on three hits.
In his first year with the program, Mederos has started every game one of a weekend series and gave up just three runs in 12.1 innings of work, striking out 18.
“I felt good - my adrenaline was rushing. I was on a 60-70 pitch count, so I tried to go as far as I could during the game and just went right at them. It worked out for the best,” said Mederos. “I’ve been in a title game at my JUCO before, but we came up short, so I said I’m not going to let it happen again and just went out there and did the best I could.”
Porter and Blackburn had two hits apiece and A.J. Wirnsberger (Tuscaloosa, AL/Paul Bryant) had one. Porter and Wirnsberger both extended their hitting streaks to 16 games.
Blackburn, who started the year in a 3-for-29 slump but went 7-for-16 (three homers, triple, two doubles) with six RBI, was excited to win the title.
“I feel great. I got off to a slow start at the beginning (of the year), but tried to stay positive and got hot toward the end of the season and tried to help the team out. It’s awesome,” said the junior designated hitter. “No one on this team has experienced this before, and it’s been a while since Georgia Southern has won one, so it feels amazing to come up here and win the tournament.”
Reichenbach (3-1) gave up the three runs on two hits in one-third of an inning. Reyes did not give up a run on two hits in five innings, walking one and striking out six.
Davis and Hilt had two hits apiece for the Phoenix.
According to Wright, “It feels great. We’ve got other guys on the team that’s well deserving of All-Tournament but it feels good to get the win and win this tournament in my last year.”
TOURNAMENT/TEAM NOTES: The last time Georgia Southern held Elon to three runs was a 4-3 win at Elon in April 2006... Blackburn joins Brett Lewis (2002), Matt Easterday (2000) and Mark Hamlin (1996) in winning the tournament’s MVP award... Mederos and Wright joined Blackburn on the All-Tournament Team... The eight seniors along with coach Hennon went out to receive the championship trophy... The 42 wins match the 2001 team’s total in their 42-20 season, good for sixth-most in program history... Mederos’ 11 wins puts him in a nine-way tie for 10th place on the season Top 10’. He now has 112 strikeouts on the season, just six away from ninth place on the Top 10’ list... The Eagles are now 4-2 this year against nationally-ranked teams.
- Category: Baseball
- Published on Sunday, 24 May 2009 21:33