STATESBORO — Every year, in-state rivals Georgia Southern and the University of Georgia take the diamond in what has become one of the most bitter rivalries in college baseball.
In recents seasons, however, the Eagles struggled to put multiple wins together and dealt with a string heartbreaking losses. This year, though, Georgia Southern swept the series 6-3, 1-0 and 6-1. The finale was on March 11.
Not only did the Eagles accomplish an incredible feat given that the Bulldogs were ranked No. 3 in the country, the victories came in three locations: Athens, Statesboro and North Augusta, S.C.
Former South Effingham player Austin Thompson said the experience was incredible.
“To be able to take that game from them game one — to get it over with — was nice,” Thompson said. “I have to tip my hat off to our center fielder Parker Biederer. He robbed a two-run home run in the first inning and that was definitely a momentum change.”
Eagles head coach Rodney Hennon capitalized on a strong core of veterans to notch the wins.
“I thought we had a good week of practice and prepared well,” Thompson said. “Coach Hennon gave a good speech before the game. He said go out there and play. You don’t have anything to lose. You are an older group. Go out there and play like it.
“It ended up working out in our favor. I thought our pitching staff did great. Hats off to them. I’m glad the offense was able to get some runs on the board for us.”
What Thompson didn’t know was that series finale would be the last time he’d suit up in an Eagles’ uniform this year. The thrill of victory was dampened after the NCAA announced all spring sports have been canceled for the remainder of the school year because of COVID-19.
Still, Thompson said ending the season in that fashion was gratifying.
“My buddies and I were talking about that the other night,” said Thompson. “That was a good way to go out. I guess if you had to make the season end, I guess there could be worse ways to go.”
Thompson and his teammates were set to host Troy in a three-game series starting March 13 that would have opened Sun Belt Conference play. Chatter began to fill the air regarding what steps the NCAA would take next.
Soon afterward, the Eagles were notified that their season was coming to a close.
“Wednesday night after we won in Statesboro, we were all fired up,” Thompson said. “We had Troy coming in that weekend so Thursday we kind of reset. We had practice Thursday. We kind of knew some things were being talked about. You hear a lot of rumors with social media and your buddies telling you this and that. We just tried to keep things between us.
“The first thing we heard was that they cancelled all championships. That’s when I knew this was serious and there would probably be more changes.”
The team was disappointed when it got the news but the shock wore off quickly.
“When we first found out the news, we were pretty devastated,” Thompson said. “But I think we took a step back and put things in perspective. I think this is a very serious thing and I think its precautionary.”
Many have been pushing for the NCAA to give seniors an extra year of eligibility. The NCAA is set to vote on the issue Monday.
The thought of having one more season to take the diamond with his teammates is enticing for Thompson.
“We all have a tight bond,” he said. “I love those guys, especially Steven Curry. When I came in as a freshman, he was the second baseman so I have taken a lot of groundballs with him.
“I felt for all of them. I know how much hard work goes into it and the dedication and time they’ve sacrificed.”