Georgia Southern Eagles Athletics Baseball Program Strengthened by Region


The Eagles baseball team’s big season included hosting the NCAA region for the first time

STATESBORO — Georgia Southern University’s two major construction projects for athletics have been in the works for years.

The Anthony P. Tippins Family Indoor Practice Facility, which will be built at a cost of $12.3 million, is expected to be completed early next year.

The Jack and Ruth Ann Hill Convocation Center, which will be the new home for the Eagles’ women’s and men’s basketball programs as well as for academic purposes, is estimated to have a total project cost of $64.4 million, of which just over $50 million for construction. The facility is scheduled to open in the spring of 2024.

On the other hand, another milestone in GS athletics had a much shorter time frame – seven days – from start to finish. Earlier this month, Georgia Southern hosted an NCAA regional tournament for the first time in its long baseball history.

The Athletic Department learned that Statesboro was a host site at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, May 29, as officials returned from the Sun Belt Conference tournament in Montgomery, Alabama.

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JI Clements Stadium was prepared and ready to host the first matches this Friday for a tournament that took place from June 3-5.

“For us, we have a chance,” Georgia Southern director of athletics Jared Benko said on opening day at the Statesboro Regional. “It’s the first time we’ve had him in the history of our university. We tried to pull out all the stops.

“At the end of the day, we all have a healthy chip on our shoulder to try to show Georgia Southern in profile as a thriving school – not just in athletics but as a university. We’re trying to do our better to show people that we deserve this offer and ultimately we will do our best.”

The athletic department had submitted an application in advance to be one of 16 host schools nationwide. JI Clements Stadium isn’t new, but it was up to the NCAA Selection Committee as a potential host site, so all specs and amenities needed to be detailed.

GS needed plans for ticketing, marketing and parking as well as logistics in Statesboro to accommodate visiting teams and fans for accommodations, restaurants and more, said Georgia assistant athletic director Chris Davis. Southern.

The post-season pitcher’s mound reconstruction schedule was accelerated to the days before the arrival of visiting teams from Texas Tech, UNC Greensboro and eventual regional winner Notre Dame.

The stadium’s existing amenities were bolstered with additional restrooms, a misting station to beat the heat, an NCAA merchandise stand, and an expanded lobby on the third base side.

Local vendors provided on-site food trucks to supplement the concession stands and more effectively feed the expected increase in spectators – and there were crowds.

Whether the fans came from the Statesboro community, Eagle Nation or supporters of the other three teams, tickets sold out for the regional (one ticket for all games). The 3,100 total for reserved seating, hillside seating and standing room only included $90 for seats with backs and $50 for seats without backs.

This level of support would reflect positively on GS in the eyes of the NCAA and viewers who watch Georgia Southern’s three games aired on ESPN+.

“Part of raising Georgia Southern’s profile as a national brand is being on the national stage. It’s a great opportunity,” Davis said. “A whole university ecosystem came together to create the pitch, to create the stadium, to make everything exceptional. That’s something we can be extremely proud of.”

Benko, who was photographed using a paint roller as the stadium received a new coat and landscaping upgrades to prepare for the big event, said it really took a village.

“Everyone understands how important this is,” Benko said. “Everyone understands how important this region is. You have a heightened level of awareness and a really heightened level of efficiency in getting things done. Everyone’s been really successful.”

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The regional was important on many levels, regardless of the outcome. While the aforementioned multimillion-dollar construction projects were called “transformative” by Benko and others at the university, hosting a three-day NCAA playoff round at Statesboro provided short-term benefits and future potential as a showcase for Eagles baseball, Georgia Southern and the surrounding community.

“It’s hard to quantify this type of (free) advertising,” Benko said.

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The Eagles qualified for the NCAA playoffs for the 14th time, and the first since 2014. Playing at home was a reward for their 40-18 record, including 23-7 in the Sun Belt.

With wins over other nationally ranked teams while playing a tough schedule, the 16th-seeded Eagles relished home-court advantage for the first time.

“Our student-athletes, our coaches and our staff deserve it. They fought hard this year and had a great season,” Benko said.

Eagles fans had another opportunity to see the team at home in a playoff atmosphere, and they raised the energy level, especially when the team faced the Fighting Irish in the winners’ bracket in the night of June 4.

Although Notre Dame won 6-4, Irish players noticed the electricity of the most-watched baseball game (3,533 spectators) in stadium history.

“It’s just a great crowd to play in front of,” Notre Dame third baseman Jack Brannigan said. “When you play an intense game like this, it makes it even more fun.”

Irish shortstop Zack Prajzner said he heard about the Eagles’ passionate fans via Twitter.

“It was really on point,” Prajzner said. “It definitely created a good atmosphere for a great game.”

While the economic impact was a bonus for the outlying region, Benko explained that Georgia Southern did not expect a financial windfall from the tournament based on the calculations. The host school can keep up to 15% of revenue (mostly ticket sales) after expenses, meaning the NCAA will pocket at least 85% of the net difference.

Determine which schools will host the regionals

While many schools often held regionals, the selection was based on determining the top 16 teams, not which programs with the largest budgets could bid the highest, Benko said.

“If that were the case, you could ask the SEC to host everything,” he said.

Benko is referring to the SEC when he talks about emulating the Power Five conference model in terms of the quality of all a university’s sports teams, modernizing facilities, and improving the college experience for student-athletes. . He credits the university’s alignment from the top down, starting with Georgia Southern University President Kyle Marrero.

Chris Davis said: “When you have really good people who are lined up properly and your brand is really strong, it’s scary. What makes the college brand at Georgia Southern is the traditions, the fan base. “

They also credit the support of the fan base – alumni, donors, the Athletic Foundation, whose philanthropy helps fund these and other projects.

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Last year, the athletics department produced “Soaring to New Heights: The Strategic Plan for Georgia Southern Athletics 2021-26.” After six months in the making, the plan was developed with input from student-athletes, coaches, staff, faculty, and Sports Foundation board members.

Included are the Guiding Principles of GS Athletics and a vision statement to be “the premier department of the Sun Belt Conference and the elite within the Group of Five”.

“Our job is to provide a vision, sometimes to be a rudder for the ship influencing the right direction towards our North Star,” Benko said. “At the end of the day, this place’s best days are still ahead of it.

“There’s no secret sauce. You’re only as good as the people around you,” he continued. “We have great people. Look at the profiles of everyone in our programs. They’re on the rise. We’re a growth stock. I encourage people to get on board because the next few years are going to be a lot of fun.”

Nathan Dominitz is the sports content editor for Savannah Morning News and savannahnow.com. Email him at [email protected] Twitter: @NathanDominitz

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