SportsBaseballPreview: Southern Miss prepares for the Conference USA Tournament.

Preview: Southern Miss prepares for the Conference USA Tournament.

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Southern Miss Baseball Team| Image Courtesy of Southern Miss Athletics

By: Dima Mixon

The No. 14 Southern Miss Golden Eagles seek to earn their sixth Conference USA tournament victory and which would be the fourth tournament title in the past six years (no tournament in 2020 due to the pandemic).

This season, Southern Miss has remained in control of the conference, starting as No. 1 in standings, never moved and finished the season as regular-season conference champions. This was the sixth league regular-season title, fifth under Head Coach Scott Berry – with the previous championships coming in 2003, 2011 (shared), 2013 (shared), 2017 and 2018.

Southern Miss’s record stands at 41-14 and 23-7 in conference play. The Conference USA baseball tournament will be at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg, MS. Southern Miss is 20-8 at Pete Taylor this season.

The seeds for the tournament are as follows:

1. Southern Miss

2. Louisiana Tech

3. Old Dominion

4. Florida Atlantic

5. UTSA

6. Middle Tennessee

7. Charlotte

8. UAB

(Old Dominion, Florida Atlantic and UTSA all finished with 19-11 records in the conference and the tiebreakers made the seeds what they are)

No. 1 Southern Miss (41-14, 23-7)

Southern Miss has had an exceptional year under Scott Berry, arguably one of the greatest regular seasons in recent history. Southern Miss hit a slump toward the end of the season, going 8-6 over the final 14 games. Southern Miss was missing key players in Left Fielder Reece Ewing during that slump and Designated Hitter Slade Wilks.

Southern Miss still managed to win their last five games and sweep the sixth-seeded Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, outscoring them 36-4 in the series. Fingers pointed toward the hit total in the slump towards the end of the season, but the Golden Eagles have found their stride recently. They were notching 74 hits in the past six contests.

One key consistency for the Golden Eagles all year is pitching. Their pitching staff with Associate Head Coach Christian Ostrander have put together a nasty weekend rotation. This begins with the 2022 Ferriss Trophy award winner for the most outstanding college baseball player in Mississippi, Tanner Hall. Hall boasts a 7-2 record, a 2.68 ERA, and a 0.97 WHIP. Hall has allowed just 26 earned runs by opponents this season and has been credited for a team high 120 strikeouts.

After Hall, up comes Hunter Riggins. Riggins has a 7-4 record and a 3.00 ERA, and 72 punchouts. After Riggins, you have to deal with Hurston Waldrep, Waldrep, who has a 6-1 record, a 2.85 ERA, and a 1.07 WHIP. Waldrep and Hall have received invitations to the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team Training Camp.

Even after the weekend rotation, Southern Miss’s pen is vital. The Golden Eagles have a 3.09 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP.

Pitching would be a big reason if Southern Miss were to go on and lock up the title. Hitting comes into play as well.

Southern Miss has found their stride recently however,  if their bats do not show up to Pete Taylor Park this week, that would be a significant concern and cost them the tournament.  

Shortstop Dustin Dickerson (.350) and Ewing (.305) lead the Golden Eagles in batting averages. First baseman Christopher Sargent leads the team in home runs with 20.

No. 2 Louisiana Tech (38-18, 20-10)

Louisiana Tech has had another solid year under Head Coach Lane Burroughs. The Bulldogs have had their share of mishaps but are still in an excellent position to go into Hattiesburg and take the tournament crown. In April, Southern Miss won the season series over Louisiana Tech in Hattiesburg.

Louisiana Tech has been a solid hitting team, and they will look to continue that in Hattiesburg. The Bulldogs are led by Taylor Young (.351); he has 72 hits this season and ten home runs. The Bulldogs have two other players batting above 300 in Cole McConnell (.341) and Steele Netterville (.311).

Louisiana Tech’s pitching is also pretty solid. The weened rotation for Louisiana Tech has remained Jonathan Fincher (7-2, 3.50 ERA), Cade Gibson (5-5, 5.19 ERA) and Jarret Whorff (5-6, 5.93 ERA.).

The Bulldogs knocked Southern Miss out of the tournament last year and are by far a candidate to win the tournament this season.

No. 3 Old Dominion (38-15, 19-11) 

Old Dominion is one of the two C-USA teams that bested Southern Miss in a season series. The Monarchs came winning extra innings to sweep the top-seeded Golden Eagles. Head Coach Chris Finwood has put together a great ball club this season. Old Dominion is a dark horse to win the entire tournament.

The Monarchs start one of the best pitchers in Conference USA in Blake Morgan. Morgan has posted a 1.41 ERA and a 7-0 record. Morgan has allowed just 52 hits and only ten earned runs.

Southern Miss accounted for seven hits back in April when they played the Monarchs–not just the pitching, but the fantastic hitting they can muster. Led by third baseman Matt Coutney who seems he can go yard each time he steps to the plate, he has a batting average of .364 and has knocked 25 home runs.

 Following Coutney is Andy Garriola, who has posted a .332 batting average and has knocked 22 home runs out of the ballpark.

Beyond these two superstars, the Monarchs as a team bat with a .296 and have blasted a team total of 115 home runs. Compared to the No. 1 seeded Golden Eagles, they have batted with a .283 batting average and have belted just 75 home runs.

Old Dominion is not on Southern Miss’s side of the bracket, but they could have a round two showdown with Louisiana Tech.

No. 4 Florida Atlantic (34-21, 19-11) 

Florida Atlantic has been pretty inconsistent all year long; they have dropped several series and won several. Head Coach John McCormick has led the Owls to a 443-274-2 record in his 13-year tenure.

Florida Atlantic could be the second-round game that Southern Miss will play if they get past UAB.

Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic played earlier this season in Hattiesburg. Southern Miss took the series, but Florida Atlantic did avoid the sweep by handing Southern Miss their first conference loss of the season.

The Owls have a solid hitter in Nolan Schanuel. Schanuel bats with a .362 average and has blasted 13 home runs and 72 hits. He has batted in 49 of his teammates. Gabriel Rincones follows him. Rincones bats with a .344 with 17 home runs and 62 RBIs.

The pitching for the Owls is where the problems come into play. The Owls have struggled with pitching well in critical moments all year. As a team, they have a 5.76 ERA, by far the highest in the first four seeds of the tournament.  

Florida Atlantic is a dangerous hitting team and they could make a run with that fact, but their pitching will have to keep up.

No. 5 UTSA (35-19, 19-11)

Southern Miss fans may recognize this team because they played two weeks ago in Hattiesburg, in a battle for the No. 1 seed in the conference. UTSA took the Friday night game, then the bats finally came alive for Southern Miss, as they won two straight to take the series.

UTSA is not your typical No. 5 seed. They can win the tournament because of their efficiency on both sides.

UTSA has been in the running to be the No. 1 seed in the tournament for most of the season. They have a good pair of hitters, with Shane Sirdashney (.349) and Leyton Berry (.336). Berry and Sirdashney combine for nine home runs and 69 RBIs.

The home run threat is that of Ian Bailey–batting with a .298 average and has belted 15 home runs for the Roadrunners this season.

Pitching for UTSA has been solid, led by Luke Malone (8-3, 2.82). The Roadrunners pitched with a 5.78 ERA and allowed 322 runs this season.

No. 6 Middle Tennessee (29-24, 17-13)

As we saw last week, Middle Tennessee might be the least threatening team for Southern Miss fans to fathom over. In the final regular-season series Southern Miss swept the sixth-seeded Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, outscoring them 36-4 in the series.

The good news for Middle Tennessee fans is that they aren’t in the same bracket as Southern Miss, but the bad news is that they will have to face the Old Dominion Monarchs in the first round.

No. 7 Charlotte (35-20, 17-13) 

Charlotte was last year’s No. 1 seed and was eliminated from the tournament in just two games. That memory has most likely played over and over in their minds–turning into something they will not want to remember nor repeat. 

In April, Southern Miss bested Charlotte in a series where the Golden Eagles swept the 49ers on the road.

The hitting of Nate Furman leads Charlotte. Furman bats at a .355 average, and he has 78 hits and 20 RBIs. But the 49er’s most dangerous hitters follow him in Jack Dragum (.341) and Jake Cunningham (.341). They have a combined 23 home runs and 94 RBIs.

Charlotte’s pitching is average, definitely not their strong spot. They have a team ERA of 4.89 and are led by pitcher Matt Brooks in ERA. Colby Bruce was Charlotte’s Friday pitcher in that series back in April.

Charlotte will have a date with Louisiana Tech to start the tournament, a team they played in their final regular-season series, in which they dropped 2-1.

No. 8 UAB (31-23, 13-17) 

The Blazers are the bottom seed in the tournament and will be the team the Golden Eagles play first. During Southern Miss’s slump, UAB bested Southern Miss in the season series, one of the two teams in Conference USA to do so. 

UAB is led by the hitting of Christian Hall, who bats with a .372 average and has ten home runs and 68 hits. The home run threat is Josh Sears, who has a .259 batting average and 17 home runs.

UAB beat Southern Miss in the Friday night game 10-6; in a game, Southern Miss had to battle back several times before giving up the lead late. They then beat Southern Miss again to take the series on Saturday, 3-2. Before, Southern Miss would avoid the sweep by beating the Blazers 9-6 in the final game of the series.

UAB pitching is pretty solid, led by Brady Green (4-0, 2.78 ERA), and as a team, the Blazers pitched with a 4.78 ERA and allowed 312 runs on the season.

What a tournament win means for Southern Miss:

After the dominant sweep of Middle Tennessee and winning five straight, the Golden Eagles have moved back up to No. 13 RPI. Because Conference USA is the No.5 ranked RPI conference, Southern Miss should be in a solid position to host a regional without winning the tournament.  

If they were to win the tournament, they could be back in consideration for a Top 8 national seed, allowing them to host their first-ever Super Regional.

It all starts Wednesday afternoon with a date with the UAB Blazers at 4 PM.

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