Southern Miss begins quest for regional bid

Published 10:33 am Wednesday, May 21, 2014

HATTIESBURG (AP) — It’s win or go home time for Southern Miss, or more correctly, win or stay home.

The Golden Eagles host the Conference USA basball tournament at Pete Taylor Park beginning today, and almost certainly need to win it to advance to the NCAA regionals. Southern Miss (32-23) is the No. 3 seed for the double-elimination tournament, and meets sixth-seeded East Carolina (32-24) in a first-round game tonight at 7:30.

Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said he’s tried to keep his players focused on each individual game, rather than being worried about needing to win the entire tournament to advance.

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“They’re not hearing that from me, but I’m sure they’re hearing it,” Berry said. “We’ve played that way all year, honesty. We don’t try to win Saturday’s game on Friday, or win Sunday’s game on Saturday. I’m sure (the tournament) will be no different.”

Southern Miss and East Carolina met two weeks ago in Hattiesburg, with the Golden Eagles winning two of three. USM’s lone loss of the series came in 15 innings in the opener.

Junior right-hander Christian Talley pitched a complete game in a 2-1 win over East Carolina that same weekend. He’ll get the ball for the tournament opener against a Pirates team without star pitcher Jeff Hoffman, who is out for the year following elbow surgery.

“Everybody in this tournament feels good about their (No. 1) starter,” Berry said. “Christian Talley is no different for us. He’s certainly a guy that gives us an opportunity to win. I’m sure coach (Billy) Godwin with East Carolina feels the same way with who he’s throwing. But we’re happy to have Christian throwing for us.”

Southern Miss won eight of 10 C-USA series during the regular season to finish 19-11 in league play.

Southern Miss was in a similar do-or-die position heading into last year’s conference tournament in Houston. It reached the championship game before losing to Rice in 11 innings, but still was left out of the NCAA regional field for the second straight year.

“We’ve been in this situation before, like last year, and know what we have to do,” USM right fielder Mason Robbins said. “We’ve got a chip on our shoulder.”