Golden Eagles are Auburn bound

Published 12:09 pm Tuesday, June 1, 2010

HATTIESBURG — When the Southern Miss baseball team watched last year’s selection show for the NCAA Tournament, the players were an extremely tense bunch with an uncertain future.

Thanks to an automatic bid following a Conference USA Tournament title win on Saturday, the Golden Eagles were a loose group on Monday and ready to face the next challenge.

The task ahead for USM involves a trip to the NCAA Regional in Auburn, Ala., as a No. 3 seed. This marks the Eagles’ eighth straight trip to a regional.

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The Golden Eagles are joined by No. 1 Auburn, No. 2 Clemson and No. 4 Jacksonville State.

“I like the closeness of it with the ability of our fan base to travel and support us,” USM coach Scott Berry said.

“I think it’s going to be a win-win situation for us. It’s obviously going to be a win for Auburn with the NCAA placing us there.”

USM’s first game will be at 2 p.m. Friday against Clemson at Plainsman Park.

The host Auburn Tigers will play the second game of the day against Jacksonville State at 6 p.m.

Southern Miss went on what was often described as a fairy tale run during its trip to the College World Series last year, shocking the traditional powers of Georgia Tech and Florida.

The 2010 Golden Eagles enter this weekend’s NCAA Regional at Auburn with no use for bedtime stories.

“We don’t feel like we’re a Cinderella right now,” designated hitter Adam Doleac said. “We feel comfortable in the postseason and we continue to be confident. I can’t imagine Auburn is too excited to have us in their regional.”

Auburn and Clemson are two programs that have been ranked in the top 25 for much of the season, but the Golden Eagles don’t appear to be intimidated by any opponent after beating Rice on Saturday to win the Conference USA tournament title.

USM doesn’t have much familiarity with the three other teams in the Regional, last playing Auburn in 1997 and meeting Jacksonville State in 2006 in the Tuscaloosa, Ala., Regional.

“Rex Hudler, the color guy for (CBS College Sports), asked me ‘Do you feel like the underdog?”’ Berry said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t feel like we’re the underdog at all.’

“Our program has got to a point where we’re supposed to be there. That’s what I felt like. Our guys were loose and ready to play (against Rice). We’ve had several guys in our program that are used to that stage and it showed that night at Rice.”

Doleac said the Eagles are starting to resemble last year’s CWS team after a 17-5 record over the final 22 games of the regular season.

“Our confidence level has turned around and it actually started a little earlier than last year,” Doleac said. “It was probably 20 games ago. Ever since then, our confidence has stayed up and we’ve continued to play well. Now we’re in the postseason and I think I speak for the rest of the team, we feel more comfortable in the postseason after last year. We’ll continue to ride that confidence and ride it out for the rest of the year.”