Southern Miss advances to Sun Belt championship game

Published 8:49 pm Saturday, May 27, 2023

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Southern Miss had to put in a little more work than it might have liked, but still managed to get to its desired destination.

Eight of Southern Miss’ nine starters had a hit and seven drove in at least one run as the Golden Eagles defeated Appalachian State 11-1 in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on Saturday.

Southern Miss (40-17) lost to Appalachian State (30-25) earlier in the day, but bounced back to clinch a spot in Sunday’s championship game against Louisiana-Lafayette. Louisiana beat No. 1 seed Coastal Carolina twice on Saturday — 7-3 in the afternoon and 4-1 in the evening — to advance to the final for the second season in a row. The Ragin’ Cajuns won the tournament in 2022.

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The championship game is Sunday at 1 p.m. and will be streamed on ESPN+.

“I’m just real proud of our guys, with how they responded to a tough loss this morning,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “We had to move through it. We faced the same thing that Appalachian State did — a must-win or you go home. Our sense of urgency came out.”

After Appalachian State beat Southern Miss 4-2 to stay alive on Saturday morning, the rematch was rather one-sided in favor of the Golden Eagles.

Christopher Sargent, Matthew Etzel, Danny Lynch and Nick Monistere all hit RBI doubles in the first three innings to help Southern Miss jump out to a 7-1 lead.

Carson Paetow doubled in two more runs in the sixth. In the seventh, Slade Wilks hit a solo home run and Lynch a sacrifice fly to finish it.

Southern Miss finished with 15 hits, spread evenly throughout the lineup. Etzel was 3-for-5 with two RBIs, Lynch was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored, and Reece Ewing was 3-for-4 with two runs scored.

Ewing and Blake Johnson were the only two starters without an RBI. Johnson was the only one who did not score a run or get a hit, although he reached base twice via a hit by pitch.

“It’s cool seeing some of your best friends go out there and succeed and do good, and when they get a big hit they’re smiling and jumping around the bases,” said Paetow, who was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and one run scored. “That definitely helps the energy in the dugout and feeds off each other.”

Will Armistead pitched an abbreviated, seven-inning complete game. He allowed four hits, two walks and one unearned run while striking out three batters.

Armistead has made 13 pitching appearances this season and started four games, but the sophomore not thrown more than four innings in any of them.

“I knew the coaching staff wanted me to go as long as possible and save arms and give us the best chance possible to win tomorrow. So I knew that the ball was mine as long as I could get it done,” Armistead said.

Berry said Armistead’s complete game was a huge boost heading into Sunday’s championship game. Southern Miss will be playing its fifth game in five days, a busy stretch that would deplete even the deepest pitching staff. Louisiana will play its sixth game in the tournament.

“The two teams that are fixing to play right now, that is not the scenario that they wanted to see happen. Whoever won today, they wanted to see them go 18 innings and get tired, like we hope they go extra innings tonight,” Berry said. “The challenge was to come out offensively today, put up numbers, and we talked about the run-rule early and the importance of it. With (Amristead’s) complete game) it was a great performance by our guys.”

• Southern Miss vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
• Sunday, 1 p.m.
• Streaming: ESPN+