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With GSU, a journey for the unknown
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Today’s NCAA Regionals schedule
For local teams of interest
• Georgia vs. Ohio State, Tallahassee, Fla., noon
• Georgia Southern vs. Gonzaga, Fullerton, Calif., 6 p.m.
• Georgia Tech vs. Georgia State, Atlanta, 7 p.m.

The Georgia Southern Eagles don’t know too much about Cal State Fullerton, Gonzaga or Utah — the three other teams in the Fullerton regional they must get by in order to advance to the NCAA super regionals.

On the flip side, those teams may not know much about the Eagles, who take on Gonzaga today at 6 p.m. in the first game of the double-elimination bracket of the NCAA regionals.

So what does Gonzaga Bulldogs coach Mark Machtolf know about Georgia Southern?

“Nothing,” he said. “I know they finished second to Elon in that conference like they said on that (ESPN) program, but now we’ve got to get on the phone, get their schedule, see who they’ve played who we might know and gather some data. I’m sure they’re a very good team.”

He may recognize Georgia Tech, with whom GSU split the regular-season, four-game series — including a 23-3 victory over the Yellow Jackets on April 8 in Atlanta. He may know of No. 1 seed East Carolina, who fell 14-4 to GSU in Statesboro, and he may know about Big 10 Champion Indiana, who dropped an 8-5 decision the Eagles back in March.

But he still hasn’t seen what GSU brings to the plate and to the mound, and that’s just fine for Georgia Southern.

“I think it’s a big advantage,” said the Eagles’ Chris Mederos, an All-SoCon first-team pitcher. “Nobody’s seen us pitch and nobody really knows about us. Maybe we can go in there as a little underdog team and come away with it.”

All Machtolf can do is have his team ready for the bracket. The Bulldogs’ two-game sweep of Loyola to close out the season and earn the bid to the regional, Machtolf believes, will have his team ready for anyone.

“We’ve always since day one talked about preparing ourselves for what we do,” said the Gonzaga coach. “We want to be familiar with our opponent but we want to control what we can do about it, and we feel the last two weekends have really prepared us. It’s been like a mini tournament playing Loyola once for the regular season and once for the automatic berth. We feel like we’re prepared to go and compete in a tournament format.”

The No. 3 seed Bulldogs (35-16) come in scoring 6.8 runs per game, almost three less then the Eagles, while allowing 5.1. The West Coast Conference champions enter the series winning five of their last six. They are led in pitching by Matt Fields (8-1, 2.86 ERA, 73 Ks) and in hitting by Tyson Van Winkle (.361, 54 RBIs).

Cal State Fullerton comes in with some momentum of their own, and their 18-straight regional appearances and four national titles lets everyone know that they’ve been here before.

The Titans (42-14) earned the No. 1 seed in their regional and are the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament. They are 20-8 at home, where the regional will take place.

Utah fought for its life to make the 64-team field. The Utes (26-29) are the only team with a losing record to make a regional. They fought through the loser’s bracket of the Mountain West Conference tournament to take the title and secure an automatic bid with a 9-3 win over San Diego State in the title game.

The Eagles (42-15) are the hottest team of the four. They won six straight to end the season and 10 of their last 11.

No matter what happens out west, Georgia Southern is looking forward to introducing itself.

“We’re definitely amped up and ready to get out there to the west coast. Everyone’s excited about it,” said GSU senior right fielder Phillip Porter. “They may have never heard of us, but we’re going to show them how we play ball here in south Georgia.”

Matt Yogus covers Georgia Southern for the Statesboro Herald.