May 28, 2005
CHARLESTON, S.C. - Furman scored four runs in the seventh inning to overcome a 4-1 deficit en route to a 5-4 Southern Conference Tournament championship game victory over Georgia Southern Saturday evening a Joseph P. Riley Park.
The victory, Furman' seventh straight, capped an improbable run for the eighth-seed Paladins, who only qualified for the tournament by virtue of a three-game sweep of Davidson on the final weekend of the regular season. In tournament play, Furman knocked off top seed and nationally 20th-ranked College of Charleston 9-7 on Wednesday, No. 4 seed Elon 6-3 on Thursday, and No. 2 seed Georgia Southern twice, including a 4-1 decision Friday prior to tonight's decisive championship game.
The SoCon Tournament crown is the second for Furman, which first captured the championship in 1991 at Charleston's College Park. The Paladins will be making their fifth appearance in the NCAA Tournament play (1965, '69, '76, '91, and '05).
The victory also clinched only the third 30-win season in Furman baseball history.
"This was a pretty incredible week to say the least," said head coach Ron Smith, who was the starting shortstop on the Paladins' 1976 Southern Conference regular season squad that advanced to the NCAA Tournament. "We like to think we started our tournament last Friday at Davidson when we had to win three straight just to get here. Once we did that, we just relaxed, executed, and played our best baseball of the season. Our players really, really are worthy of this championship. They came together as a team and played extremely well, within themselves, and with poise. It was as tremendous effort from everyone."
Georgia Southern touched up Paladin starter Matt Klinker for a run in the second and two in the third to take a 3-1 lead.
The Eagles added a run in the seventh on a double steal to increase their advantage to 4-1, but the Paladins answered with four decisive runs in the bottom of the frame to take a 5-4 lead, sending seven batters to plate and taking advantage of three hits, an error, and a passed ball.
Ryan Hudson (5-3), who earned the victory - his second of the tournament -- after pitching 2 2/3 innings of relief, retired the Eagles in order in the eighth, and Nick Hollstegge pitched a perfect ninth to notch his fourth save of the tournament and Most Valuable Player honors.
In all Hollstegge hurled 4 1/3 innings of scoreless ball in the Paladins' four tournament wins, yielding only two hits and no walks while striking out two.
Pairings for the NCAA Tournament regionals will be announced on Monday on ESPN at 11:30 eastern time.