Southern Miss splits with Tennessee to set up winner-take-all Game 3 on Monday

Published 7:26 pm Sunday, June 11, 2023

HATTIESBURG — Southern Miss closed out a game. The series, and all of the dreams and prizes that come with it, will have to wait.

Southern Miss defeated Tennessee 5-3 in the conclusion of Game 1 of their NCAA Tournament super regional series on Sunday, but lost Game 2 by a score of 8-4.

The split decision set up a winner-take-all Game 3 Monday at Pete Taylor Park, with a trip to the College World Series on the line. The game will begin at 5 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.

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Southern Miss (46-19) is trying for its first trip to the College World Series since 2009, and Tennessee (42-20) its second in three seasons.

“Obviously, the goal is to be where we are right now but the ultimate goal is to get to that next step,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “Last year we were here and we saw the wall but we weren’t able to knock it over. This year we’re one win away from knocking that wall over. The attitude that we have tomorrow coming out is just the belief in ourself.”

Game 1 of the best-of-three series was delayed twice on Saturday and eventually suspended with Southern Miss leading 4-0 in the fifth inning. When play resumed, Tennessee immediately struck for three runs to close the gap.
Reliever Justin Storm rode to the Golden Eagles’ rescue, however. He pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings, allowed two hits and two walks, and struck out three to carry his team to the 5-3 victory.

Storm has only allowed three runs, two earned, in 17 1/3 innings over five postseason appearances.

Southern Miss had a chance to close it out in Game 2 with its ace Tanner Hall on the mound, and bolted to a 4-0 lead. Dustin Dickerson hit an RBI single and Christopher Sargent a three-run home run, both in the third inning.

It all unraveled quickly, though. Tennessee struck back for six runs in the top of the fifth and two more in the sixth to take the lead for good.

Blake Burke hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning that traveled an estimated 479 feet. A misplayed ball by USM center fielder Matthew Etzel on a single by Cal Stark allowed three runs to score and put Tennessee ahead 6-4. Another error in the fifth inning led to two more runs for the Vols.

Hall left the game after 4 1/3 innings, his second-shortest outing of the season. The only other time he did not last at least five innings was in last week’s Auburn Regional championship game against Penn, when he was on a pitch count and only threw two innings by design.

“I definitely left a pitch or two up to make it a little easier for them, but they definitely capitalized on the mistakes I made and along with some mistakes in the field and I think that’s why they were able to get that momentum and keep going and make that inning a lot longer than it should’ve been,” Hall said.

From there, the game belonged to the Vols and pitcher Chase Dollander. The right-hander gave up four consecutive hits and all four Southern Miss runs in a span of four pitches in the third inning, then shut the Golden Eagles down the rest of the way.

Dollander retired 18 of the next 19 batters following Sargent’s home run. He was lifted after giving up a leadoff walk in the ninth inning and closer Chase Burns finished the game. Dollander had seven strikeouts in eight innings.

“He’s a really good pitcher. We got to him early on and he kind of settled in after that,” said Southern Miss shortstop Dustin Dickerson, who was 4-for-7 with two RBIs and three runs scored in the two games Sunday. “He’s got an electric fastball and three other pitches that he can land for strikes that keep you off-balance. His fastball got some more life as the game went on and that’s a credit to him and how good he is.”

NCAA Tournament super regional, at Hattiesburg
Game 1 – Southern Miss 5, Tennessee 3
Game 2 – Tennessee 8, Southern Miss 4
Game 3 – Monday, June 12, 5 p.m. (ESPN2)