Golden Eagles have realistic dreams of Omaha

Published 11:35 am Thursday, April 7, 2011

It’s a little too early to be thinking of Omaha, but with the college baseball season barely into conference play, one of the Big Three is showing the stuff to make it to the College World Series.

Hint, it is not either one of the state’s SEC schools. Ole Miss is always in the conversation for SEC titles and trips to Omaha, but Omaha is a goal that has eluded the Rebels and likely will again thanks to inconsistent pitching. John Cohen’s rebuilding job at Mississippi State is showing positive signs of a breakout, but this weekend’s series against fourth-ranked Florida will show if the Bulldogs are ready for a run this year or are still a year away.

A couple of years removed after shocking Florida in the super regional round and flaming out, two and a barbecue, in Omaha, Southern Miss looks to have the stuff to make it back.

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Imagine baseball as a triangle, with the legs as pitching, defense and hitting. Some teams lean too heavily on one leg or another, fated to fall over when an opponent nullifies the stronger leg.

But Southern Miss is a perfect equilateral triangle. The Golden Eagles have pitching, defense and hitting in abundance.

First, the Golden Eagles have built an excellent pitching staff, led by ace starter Todd McInnis and relief wiz Collin Cargill. McInnis has been a workhorse the past few years, eating up innings like kids eat Halloween candy. This season, he’s 5-1 with a 2.70 ERA. Fellow starter Geoffrey Thomas is 6-1 with a 1.48 ERA in 482⁄3 innings. And that isn’t it, as spot starters Jonathan Thompson and Boomer Scarborough have shown some signs of becoming excellent pitchers in their own right.

As for the pen, Cargill isn’t just a ninth-inning door-shutter, but he has the stamina to throw two or three innings in relief if needed. Chase Horn and Dillon Day, who both have ERAs under 3.50, are capable of handling the load in relief as well.

Hitting-wise, the Golden Eagles have swung the sticks effectively, even with the new bats with dulled sweet spots that have brought most college baseball scores back into the mainstream. The days of 21-15 games with each team throwing eight pitchers in a vain attempt to get 27 outs is thankfully over.

But the Golden Eagles are hitting like the good old days. B.A. Vollmuth was already a star, but now he’s hitting for average (.319) in addition to hitting for power (nine home runs) this season. He already has 29 RBIs. Tied with him as a top run producer is Tyler Koelling, who is hitting a sparkling .385 with nine doubles and two home runs. But the biggest breakout has been by senior Marc Bourgeois, who only hit .250 last season in 29 starts. He’s hitting a phenomenal .398 with 18 RBIs and 10 extra-base hits (four doubles, two triples and four home runs). Add to the mix Kameron Brunty (.339 average, 24 RBIs, 11 extra-base hits), Adam Doleac (.344, 10 doubles, 19 RBIs) and Mark Ellis (21 RBIs, six doubles and two home runs) and you have a lineup with plenty of pop, one through nine.

The Golden Eagles (22-6) have won their first two series against a pair of tough Conference-USA foes, bashing Tulane two out of three games and sweeping Central Florida, which beat 2010 SEC regular-season champion Florida Tuesday.

While it’s a little too soon to call the race, the Golden Eagles look to be well-equipped for the battles to come.

Steve Wilson is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. You can follow him on Twitter at vpsportseditor. He can be reached at 601-636-4545, ext. 142 or at