USM trying to keep up with C-USA crowd

Published 11:30 am Thursday, April 10, 2014

Southern Miss shortstop Michael Sterling reaches to palm a ground ball against Mississippi State Tuesday night at Trustmark Park. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

Southern Miss shortstop Michael Sterling reaches to palm a ground ball against Mississippi State Tuesday night at Trustmark Park. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

Like a finely-tuned machine, Southern Miss has just been humming along for the past month.

It’s won four consecutive Conference USA series and eight of 11 games overall to turn around a slow start.

All that the surge has done, though, has allowed the Golden Eagles to keep up with everybody else. Ten of Conference USA’s 13 teams are within three games of first place approaching the midpoint of the league schedule.

“With our conference, and how the new members have come in, everybody doesn’t really know each other and it’s unfamiliar,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “It doesn’t surprise me. Where the conference is with standings is where we are as coaches. We’re still trying to figure everybody out.”

With no one separating from the pack, the job ahead of the Golden Eagles is clear — just keep winning and let the rest sort itself out.

“We’ve just got to keep going one game at a time, just like our focus tonight was to win this baseball game,” Berry said after a 4-3 loss to Mississippi State on Tuesday. “We didn’t. Now we turn our focus to Friday. This is a big weekend for us, as it is everybody.”

The good news for Southern Miss (19-15, 8-4 C-USA) is it has ample opportunity to help itself. It hits the road for a three-game series at UAB (23-10, 9-3) beginning Friday night, then has its next two C-USA series at Pete Taylor Park.

Two of its last five conference series are also against Louisiana Tech and Charlotte, two of the three teams that have dropped out of contention.

“I haven’t even looked at it. I know who we have, but right now our main focus is to beat UAB and win that series,” Berry said.

Getting to the festering carcasses at the bottom of the C-USA standings unscathed won’t be easy for the Golden Eagles.

UAB, like Southern Miss, has won each of its first four conference series. It’s coming off a sweep of Louisiana Tech to move, in terms of winning percentage, into first place in Conference USA,

The Blazers rank in the middle of the C-USA pack in most offensive categories, but are close to the top when it comes to pitching. The staff ERA of 2.70 ranks fourth in the league, and opponents are hitting just .224 against them.

UAB has allowed a total of nine runs and posted two shutouts in its last six C-USA games. Its top two starters, Chase Mallard (6-0) and Alex Luna (5-0), both are undefeated this season and have ERAs under 1.00.

“They’re pretty good, especially with their Friday and Saturday starters,” Berry said. “But they’ve been putting up some runs, too. I don’t think it’s just one-dimensional. I think they’ve been playing pretty good baseball all the way around.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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