Golden Eagles aim for C-USA title

Published 11:40 am Tuesday, May 24, 2011

JACKSON — For much of the season, it seemed like the stars were aligning for Southern Miss.

The Golden Eagles rolled through the first two-thirds of their Conference USA schedule and built a three-game lead with six to play. Then, suddenly, it all came crashing down. They lost four of their last five and had to settle for a co-championship with Rice.

The good news is, a new day dawns Wednesday at the C-USA Tournament and once again everything seems in sync. Southern Miss has a favorable schedule, a bit of home field advantage, and a chip on its shoulder as it tries to defend its tournament championship.

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“I think every team goes through it. Just a little hiccup. We got out of our game. Didn’t pitch well, didn’t hit well, didn’t field well. We’ve really been focused on it in practice. Saturday, we got back on track and played some really good ball,” USM shortstop B.A. Vollmuth said.

Southern Miss (38-15) opens the tournament at Trustmark Park on Wednesday night at 7:30 against Tulane. It will then face Houston on Thursday night and East Carolina on Friday, all in the same time slot. Conference USA officials put the Golden Eagles in the late game primarily for attendance purposes, and the team was glad for it. Vollmuth said playing at the same time every day — and an hour from campus — will not only draw a healthy pro-USM crowd, but allow the players to stick to a routine.

“Last year we played the late game one night and then had to wake up the next morning. This year we play all late games. It’s really nice. You get to sleep in a little bit and relax all day, and really get your mind focused,” Vollmuth said.

Despite the apparent advantages they’ll enjoy, the Golden Eagles do need to break out of a losing routine. They lost four in a row before beating Rice in the regular-season finale last Saturday. USM coach Scott Berry said the win helped shake off the swoon, but was still hoping two months of good baseball isn’t undone by two bad weeks.

“The thing I didn’t want to get lost is what we had done prior to get ourselves to that position. We played good baseball for a long, long time,“ Berry said. “Baseball is a sport where you’re going to deal with some adversity. You just hope you get over it quick. Hopefully that game on Saturday gives us some momentum.”

Southern Miss is also playing for more than just a conference championship this week. Its RPI was as high as No. 2 in the country at one point this season, meaning a strong showing in Pearl could allow the school to host an NCAA regional next week.

“We’re not looking ahead to regionals, but in the back of our mind we know if we do what we’re supposed to then that’s what can happen for us,“ Vollmuth said. “It’s been that way the last couple weeks, and I think we got to looking ahead a little too much and looking at what other people were doing and got off of our game. But now we realize we have to take it one game at a time and things will work out how they’ve got to work out.”