Sports column: Tennessee picks a fight with Southern Miss that it won’t win
Published 3:55 am Saturday, June 10, 2023
My first draft of this week’s column was all about how not having Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the NCAA baseball tournament felt weird and out of place — and, honestly, it does.
For the first time since 2002, Mississippi’s Southeastern Conference teams both failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in the same season. In fact, this will be the first time since 2015 that neither of them will play in a super regional.
The SEC Tournament felt like an afterthought around here with neither team in it. Not seeing sellout crowds at Swayze or The Dude during the NCAA Tournament doesn’t feel right.
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Thankfully, Southern Miss stepped up and said, “Hold my beer shower.”
Southern Miss, the spunky little brother of Mississippi’s “Big Three” Division I schools, is admirably carrying the baseball banner for the state.
The Golden Eagles won the Sun Belt Tournament. They won four elimination games to win the Auburn Regional. And this weekend they’ll host Tennessee of the mighty SEC in a best-of-three super regional series.
Southern Miss isn’t just holding its own on the field, though. Its fans have been trading barbs with Tennessee all week on social media, creating a bizarrely intense rivalry out of thin air.
Tennessee fans were upset about traveling for the series instead of hosting it. They took jabs at everything from Hattiesburg’s dining options to the lack of space and tickets at Pete Taylor Park.
The City of Hattiesburg responded by tweeting a link to a list of 200-plus other restaurants in the area. The Hattiesburg Applebee’s, which was a subject of the initial derogatory tweet, defended itself and has been using the dust-up to promote its weekend specials.
Southern Miss folks pointed out that its own fans had already sold out The Pete, and it’s bigger than Tennessee’s stadium anyway. The whole feud has a feeling of “Where did this come from?” that Southern Miss’ fans are having a lot of fun with.
Tennessee will not be winning over many neutral fans in this fight. When it re-emerged as a power last season, it brought along a cocky streak that far outweighed its recent accomplishments and turned off a lot of people who might have enjoyed the novelty of a new face on the national scene.
Southern Miss, which is always vying for attention in SEC country, can certainly take care of itself when it comes to trash-talking. It can also handle itself on the baseball field. But now that they’re the only Mississippi team left standing, it’ll also have an entire state — and probably 13 other SEC fan bases as well as those in the Sun Belt — in its corner.
Southern Miss might be the little brother in our Mississippi college sports family, but darn it we love the guy. And now that the big brothers don’t have anything else to do, they’re all rooting for him.
Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
TENNESSEE AT SOUTHERN MISS
NCAA Super Regional, at Hattiesburg
Game 1 – Saturday, June 10, 2 p.m. (ESPNU)
Game 2 – Sunday, June 11, TBA
Game 3 – Monday, June 12, TBA (if necessary)