Southern Miss advances to College World Series|USM will make first trip to Rosenblatt

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 8, 2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Still soaked from the ice water dumped on him during Southern Miss’ postgame celebration, coach Corky Palmer pulled out his cell phone and had 24 text messages.

“Somebody likes me, huh?” he said.

He’s sure to get even more love in the next few days. After all, Palmer and the Golden Eagles will be the feel-good story of the College World Series.

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Joey Archer drove in three runs, reliever Scott Copeland pitched three scoreless innings and the Eagles beat Florida 7-6 on Sunday night to advance to the CWS for the first time in school history. The victory also set Palmer up for a storybook send-off in Omaha, Neb.

The Golden Eagles will play either Texas or TCU in their World Series opener on Saturday or Sunday. The date and time will be announced tonight, after Game 3 of the super regional between the two Texas schools.

“It’s been a great ride,” said Palmer, who’s retiring at the end of the season. “I don’t know what happened three weeks ago. We just kind of grew up. We earned everything we got.”

They certainly earned the latest one.

The Eagles (40-24), the surprise of the NCAA Tournament, overcame a five-run deficit to win for the 12th time in 15 games. The hot streak started shortly after Palmer announced his retirement. Now, they’re headed to Omaha for the first time in the program’s 63 years.

“It’s a phenomenal feeling to go to Omaha, Neb.,” second baseman James Ewing said. “I can’t even put into words how that feels.”

Archer had two huge hits to get them there. He had an RBI double in the fourth, then drove in two runs with a single in the three-run eighth off Billy Bullock (3-3).

Tyler Koelling followed with a grounder to shortstop that should’ve been an inning-ending double play with the game tied at 6. But Preston Tucker, Florida’s best player, couldn’t field the throw that skipped in the dirt.

“I think we rushed our throw a little bit, didn’t set our feet and short-hopped Preston,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.

Tucker singled in the ninth to give the Gators (42-22) a chance, but closer Collin Cargill got Josh Adams to hit into a game-ending double play for his 13th save.

Teammates rushed the field and piled onto Cargill, who also got a save in Saturday’s win. The 1,000 or so supporters who made the trip to Gainesville started chanting “Corky, Corky, Corky,” and two players answered the call by dousing Palmer with water.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have a pretty successful career,” Palmer said. “But to go to this, the mountaintop of Division I baseball, this will do so much for our school and our baseball and our athletic program. I’m so proud of that.”

Maybe Copeland should have gotten a dousing, too.

The right-hander was 1-5 with a 6.81 ERA in 14 appearances this season, but he looked downright nasty against Florida. He allowed one hit and gave the Eagles a chance to mount a comeback after the Gators tagged ace Todd McInnis early.

“We’re not done yet,” Archer said, anticipating more wins in Omaha.