Southern Miss feels comfortable heading to Auburn for NCAA regional

Published 2:11 pm Thursday, June 1, 2023

Early in the season, when Southern Miss was struggling a bit, ace pitcher Tanner Hall said the thought crossed his mind that the Golden Eagles were already hurting their chances of hosting an NCAA regional.

So when the brackets were announced Monday and Southern Miss was sent on the road to Auburn, it wasn’t perceived as a slight. It was more a situation they’d made for themselves, and just a challenge to overcome.

“As long as we keep that momentum rolling with us, it doesn’t matter if we’re playing at The Pete or playing at Auburn. We’re going to stay the same team and keep fighting,” Hall said.

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Southern Miss (41-17) is not struggling now. It is entering the NCAA Tournament as winners of 19 of its last 21 games, the Sun Belt Conference tournament champion, and an experienced team that knows how to handle itself in the postseason.

Southern Miss reached the super regional round last season before losing to a red-hot Ole Miss team that went on to win the national championship.

“What we can draw strength from is this is our seventh straight regional. Some of those have been on the road. We’ll draw strength from that experience with our older guys and move forward into this Auburn regional,” USM coach Scott Berry said.

Hall said the experience helped carry the Golden Eagles through the Sun Belt tournament. They lost a semifinal round game against Appalachian State, then bounced back to win a rematch and beat Louisiana-Lafayette in the championship game.

“After we lost that first game to App State we came back and all the mistakes we made in the first game were avoided that second game. You could see that we had a lot more emotion out there and made sure we did the little things right,” Hall said. “I think that’s something that shows this team is very mature, and we’re going to do mature things on the field. If we make a mistake we’re going to make an adjustment and not keep doing that same things over and over.”

The Golden Eagles also showed off their pitching depth last weekend, which is always an asset in the postseason.

After Hall pitched a complete game in the opener, bullpen arms like Niko Mazza, Justin Storm and Will Armistead carried the team across the finish line.

Armistead had not gone longer than four innings all season, but threw seven in the second game vs. Appalachian State.

Storm won two games out of the bullpen. In the title game against Louisiana, he had eight strikeouts in 5 2/3 scoreless innings.

“This staff is amazing. Whenever we’re on it’s tough to be a hitter that day,” Hall said. “We have leaders in the bullpen and leaders in the starting rotation. That’s really important because we’re all working together as one unit. I feel like we’ve been doing that really well toward the end of the year.”

Hall added that having so many pitchers providing productive innings, and the hitters backing them up — Southern Miss scored 33 runs in five Sun Belt tournament games — gives an extra confidence boost.

“It also shows that there are going to be guys who are going to step that some people might not have even seen this year. They’re going to go out and pitch in this regional and get us four or five innings of no-hit baseball,” Hall said. “It’s going to be surprise a lot of people when it happens and we’re going to be in the dugout expecting it because that’s what happens in the postseason. Everyone’s rising to the occasion.”

The Golden Eagles will open the Auburn Regional against Samford (36-23), the Southern Conference regular-season and tournament champion, Friday at 1 p.m.

Auburn (34-21-1) will play Ivy League champion Penn (32-14) in the other first-round game Friday at 6 p.m. Both games will be streamed on ESPN+.

Even though they’d rather play at home, playing in the early window does suit Southern Miss well. Having a few extra hours to rest afterward, and avoid potential weather delays, could offer an advantage, Berry said.

“If we were hosting, that’s when we would be playing. I want the early game, no doubt,” Berry said. “It’s just the turnaround, the delays that might happen. It’s very seldom that tournaments stay on time. If you have rain and it pushes it back, now you’re playing deep into the night. And if you happen to lose you have the quick turnaround as well. I like to think on the side of keeping our guys fresh if we take care of business the best way we can, and that’s playing that early game.”

Auburn Regional
Friday, June 2
Game 1 – Southern Miss (41-17) vs. Samford (36-23), 1 p.m. (ESPN+)
Game 2 – Auburn (34-21-2) vs. Penn (32-14), 6 p.m. (ESPN+)
Saturday, June 3
Game 3 – Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 2 p.m.
Game 4 – Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 8 p.m.
Sunday, June 4
Game 5 – Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 2 p.m.
Game 6 – Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 8 p.m.
Monday, June 5
Game 7 (If necessary) – Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, TBD

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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