Southern Miss riding momentum of sweep into C-USA Tournament

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, May 23, 2018

JACKSON — Beating a last-place team with nothing to play for is typically business as usual for a championship program like Southern Miss. Last weekend’s sweep of Marshall meant so much more than three wins on the ledger, though.

The series might have been the most important of the Golden Eagles’ season. It helped them shake off a slump in which they’d lost three of four and seen their NCAA RPI ranking take a major hit, while also giving them a big confidence boost leading into this week’s Conference USA Tournament in Biloxi.

“I thought the La. Tech series was kind of a punch in the mouth,” USM third baseman Luke Reynolds said, referring to the previous weekend when Louisiana Tech won two of three games against the Golden Eagles in Hattiesburg. “That was a rude awakening that we needed. It woke us up and Marshall got the brunt end of the stick. Hopefully every other team that we face will have that same effect.”

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The next team to test the Golden Eagles (39-15) will be UAB (21-31) in a first-round game at the C-USA Tournament Wednesday at 4 p.m. Southern Miss swept the Blazers in a three-game series in Birmingham earlier this month, and might need to make it 4-for-4 to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

Southern Miss was No. 32 in the RPI rankings — which serve as the baseline for picking at-large teams in the NCAA Tournament — before its series loss to Louisiana Tech and another to New Orleans. It currently sits at No. 45, which might be bubble territory if it doesn’t win at least a game or two at the Conference USA Tournament.

Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic (36-15-1), at No. 31, are the only C-USA teams in the top 50 of the RPI rankings. Louisiana Tech (38-18) is No. 59, and Charlotte (31-22) is next at No. 85.
Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said he’s tried to send the message to his team that winning is the best medicine for worry.

“Those are things I try not to dwell on, because those are things I can’t control,” Berry said. “We’ve really made an investment the last couple of years of trying to worry about things that we can control. RPI, we can’t control. It is what it is. You just have to go out and win, and give them a reason to put you in.”

Southern Miss can also eliminate all doubt by simply winning the C-USA Tournament and earning the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It will certainly be the favorite in Biloxi, thanks to a prolific offense led by one of the country’s best hitters.

Southern Miss has scored 449 runs this season, the most in Conference USA and fifth-best total in the country. It is one of only 11 teams in Division I, which consists of 297 teams, to have scored more than 400 runs.

Leading the way is Reynolds, who ranks 11th in Division I with a .403 batting average. He leads Conference USA in runs (67), doubles (19) and home runs (15), and is third in RBIs (58).

The junior from Forest went 9-for-14 last week to earn the C-USA Hitter of the Week award and on Tuesday was named both the league’s Player and Newcomer of the Year.

Reynolds started his career at Hinds Community College and helped it reach the NJCAA World Series in 2014. He signed with Mississippi State and hit .304 in 35 games as a sophomore in 2015, then did not play in 2016. He decided to transfer and had to sit out the 2017 season, meaning he had not played a competitive college baseball game in two years before this season.

Reynolds admitted it was an odd journey to play for three teams in five seasons, but was grateful for how it’s all worked out.

“I had an unorthodox college career. I’ve been all over the place. But from my experience, it’s just amazing to see how the Lord has brought me to Southern. If you’d have asked me three years ago I wouldn’t have ever thought I’d be at Southern. So it tells me His plans and His timing is way better than mine would ever be,” Reynolds said. “When I got bogged down at State and didn’t know what to do from there, Southern gave me a new page and a new opportunity which was everything I needed. It helped me tremendously. I appreciate Southern for everything they’ve done.”

Conference USA Tournament
At Biloxi
Double elimination; x-if necessary
May 23
Game 1 – Florida International vs. Florida Atlantic, 9 a.m.
Game 2 – Rice vs. Louisiana Tech, 12:30 p.m.
Game 3 – UAB vs. Southern Miss, 4 p.m.
Game 4 – UTSA vs. Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.
May 24
Game 5 – FIU-FAU loser vs. Rice-La. Tech loser, 9 a.m.
Game 6 – UAB-USM loser vs. UTSA-Charlotte loser, 12:30 p.m.
Game 7 – FIU-FAU winner vs. Rice-La. Tech winner, 4 p.m.
Game 8 – UAB-USM winner vs. UTSA-Charlotte winner, 7:30 p.m.
May 25
Game 9 – Game 5 winner vs. Game 7 loser, 3 p.m.
Game 10 – Game 6 winner vs. Game 8 loser, 6:30 p.m.
May 26
Game 11 – Game 7 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 9 a.m.
Game 12 – Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 12:30 p.m.
x-Game 13 – Game 7 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 4 p.m.
x-Game 14 – Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 7:30 p.m.
May 27
Championship game, 1 p.m.

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 reporters in the paper's 140-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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