Winning the first game in the NCAA regionals makes things a whole lot easier. Drop the first one, and the team is facing elimination for the rest of the weekend.
The Georgia Southern Eagles are sending lefty Sam Howard to the mound with every intention of showing Florida State their best when the teams meet at 6 tonight in Tallahassee, Fla.
The top-seeded Seminoles, however, are saving their best arms for later.
Florida State (43-15) will send sophomore righty Mike Compton to the mound to face the Eagles (39-21). The Seminoles will save ace Luke Weaver for Saturday. Their top pitcher, Brandon Leibrandt, son of former Atlanta Brave Charlie Leibrandt, has been injured since his sixth start of the season, but may be available, according to reports from FSU.
Compton has been a regular in the weekend rotation, but GSU’s Howard statistically is better in every category, albeit against lesser competition. Howard will be followed by Southern Conference Pitcher of the Year Josh Wirsu, who took over the Friday job with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
Much like the Seminoles, the Eagles like their chances with two aces ready to go. Wirsu will face either Alabama or Kennesaw State on Saturday.
Howard has been followed by Major League Baseball scouts in every game he’s started this season.
“I told them a long time ago if we could get into a regional, we’re going to be a dangerous team,” GSU pitching coach B.J. Green said about Howard and Wirsu. “I like those two. They compete out there and their stuff is great. I pitched in the SEC (at Alabama), and they’re big-conference-caliber guys. We’re going to have our work cut out for us, but our guys will be ready for the challenge.”
The Eagles haven’t had a one-two punch like Howard and Wirsu in years and like their chances of at least getting to Sunday in the double-elimination regional.
“I really feel like we’d match up well wherever we went with those two guys,” GSU head coach Rodney Hennon said.
Howard came up huge for the Eagles in last week’s Southern Conference tournament. Facing elimination, Howard started against No. 1 seed Western Carolina and led GSU to an 8-4 win.
Howard also threw an inning of relief in the SoCon championship game, pitching a 1-2-3 frame in the ninth to help the Eagles to the title in their 4-3 win over Samford.
“Coach Hennon always says, ‘You’ve got to be at your best when your best is needed.’ Well, this is when your best is needed — right here at the end,” Green said.
Tonight’s game will be broadcast on the Georgia Southern Radio Network/GS All-Access and ESPN3. Live stats will be at seminoles.com.