Mazza’s gem keeps Southern Miss alive in Knoxville Regional

Published 6:44 pm Saturday, June 1, 2024

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — If there’s one thing Southern Miss knows how to do in the NCAA Tournament, it’s win elimination games in the regional round.

Niko Mazza threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout to lead the Golden Eagles to a 6-0 victory over Northern Kentucky Saturday in the Knoxville Regional.

Southern Miss (42-19) won its eighth consecutive elimination game in the first phase of the tournament, and is 11-1 in those situations since 2021. It has lost its regional opener in three of the past four seasons, but battled out of the losers’ bracket in 2022 and 2023 to reach the super regional round and is trying to do it again.

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“Long as I’ve been doing it and been associated with teams, when you’re on elimination, when your season gets to the point that if you lose you know this family and brotherhood and unity is over, it’s a big motivation,” Southern Miss coach Christian Ostrander said.

Southern Miss will play another elimination game Sunday at 11 a.m., against the loser of Saturday night’s contest between Tennessee and Indiana.

Tennessee is the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. Indiana beat Southern Miss 10-4 on Friday.
The winner of Sunday’s first game will play the Tennessee-Indiana winner at 5 p.m.

“It’s about extending your season now,” Ostrander said. “I thought they played well, played clean, we had timely hitting and obviously outstanding pitching. Niko was great today. He put everybody on his back and toted the load. That was big, trying to come through the losers’ bracket.”

Mazza (9-3) only walked two batters and struck out three. After allowing two baserunners in the first inning he retired 10 in a row. Two more batters reached base to start the fifth inning, and then Mazza set down the last 15 he faced.

Mazza pitched his first shutout, as well as his first complete game, in 28 college starts. The last nine-inning complete-game shutout for the Golden Eagles was done by Hunter Riggins against Louisiana-Lafayette on March 5, 2022.

“Coach Oz always preaches early contact and that’s how you get deep in ballgames. I try to get ahead of hitters and weak contact all day was what allowed me to go deep in the game,” Mazza said.

Mazza threw 110 pitches through eight innings, but said he had no intention of leaving the game without finishing. He only needed 10 more pitches to get through the ninth.

“I didn’t know if I was going to give him a choice to take me out or not,” Mazza said. “I knew that if I go out there again, that’s just one more pitcher that can throw tomorrow and the next day. I was just thinking I could save some more pitching for tomorrow.”

The Golden Eagles’ offense came in bunches. Davis Gillespie hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning for their first two runs, and Braden Luke singled in two more to make it 5-0 in the sixth.

Nick Monistere also had an RBI double in the sixth, and Slade Wilks hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh to finish the scoring.
Gillespie finished 3-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs scored. Wilks singled in the sixth inning to extend his hitting streak to 34 games, which is the second-longest in school history.