Southern Miss wins Sun Belt tournament championship

Published 6:51 pm Sunday, May 28, 2023

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — It was a first time and a last time for Southern Miss.

Justin Storm threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings of relief, and Southern Miss belted three home runs to defeat Louisiana-Lafayette 6-2 on Sunday to win the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship.

“It’s outstanding. That’s what we’d like the expectation to be for Southern Miss baseball. That’s the way it’s been for a while,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “But I want the new guys to understand that this is not just something that just happened. This happens for a reason. The hard work we put in, the commitment in the weight room, everybody in this program invests in this opportunity we made for ourselves to cash in and win another championship.”

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Southern Miss (41-17) won the Sun Belt title in its first season as a member of the league, and gave Berry another his sixth conference tournament championship trophy in his final go-round as coach.

Berry is retiring when the Golden Eagles conclude their postseason run, which won’t be for at least another week. Winning the Sun Belt tournament gave them an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament that begins June 2.

The 16 regional sites for the NCAA Tournament were to be announced Sunday evening. The full 64-team bracket will be revealed on the NCAA Tournament Selection Show Monday at 11 a.m. on ESPN2.

“Winning the Sun Belt championship is awesome. That’s what we set out to do every year,” said USM third baseman Danny Lynch, who went 2-for-4 with a solo home run and was named to the all-tournament team. “Our first goal is the regular-season title, our second goal is the tournament title. And now we’re looking forward to the regionals and our next goal is to win a regional, and a super regional and the College World Series.”

Southern Miss won for the 19th in its last 21 games, and did it with both stellar pitching and power hitting.

Dustin Dickerson and Lynch hit solo home runs in the third and fourth innings, respectively, and Slade Wilks added a two-run home run in the seventh.

Dickerson also hit an RBI single in the fifth inning that snapped a 2-all tie and put the Golden Eagles ahead to stay.

Storm entered the game in the fourth with two runners on and the Cajuns having just taken the lead on a two-run single by Heath Hood off starter Niko Mazza.

Storm, who entered the game with one out, immediately gave up a single but the runner from second trying to score was thrown out at the plate by left fielder Reece Ewing. Storm then got a groundout to first to end the last real Cajun threat in the contest.

Storm limited the Cajuns to just two hits and a pair of ninth-inning walks after the fourth. He retired seven batters in a row at one point, and struck out Will Veillon on a high fastball for the final out.

Storm called getting the final out and then celebrating with his teammates “super cool.”

“All these guys get together almost every single day for a lot of hours of the day to quickly become best friends,” Storm said. “Throughout the season you get closer and closer, and every single one of these guys is like a brother to me. Dogpiling with your brothers, there’s no better feeling.”