Southern Miss didn’t have sweat when the NCAA Regional brackets were released Monday morning. In fact, Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said his night of sleep is a little easier when his team clinches the all-large berth by winning the conference tournament.
The Golden Eagles are heading to Fayetteville, Arkansas, this week to play Dallas Baptist in the opening game of the Fayetteville Regional. Game time is set for 7 p.m. Friday, while Arkansas – the host team – will play Oral Roberts earlier in the afternoon at 2 p.m.
Saturday’s loser’s bracket game is set for 2 p.m. while the winners will play at 7 p.m.
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Berry said prior to Tuesday’s practice that the Golden Eagles would stick with the same three-man rotation – Nick Sandlin, Stevie Powers and Walker Powell – through the first three games of the Regional.
“There’s no reason to change that now,” Berry said.
Dominant starting pitching
The 1-2-3-4 punch from the Southern Miss starting pitching was outstanding last week in Biloxi, and it might be a glimpse of what Southern Miss fans can expect in the Regional.
“Hopefully, we’ll keep that momentum rolling with the starting pitching,” Sandlin said. “Anytime you’re in the tournament style, it’s good to save that bullpen. Maybe other teams don’t have that luxury, and I think that was an advantage for us the whole week (in Biloxi).”
Sandlin tipped off what the Eagles will do pitching wise in the first game, too. He’s been the Game 1 starter all season, but there is a school of thought to save the ace of the staff for the winner’s bracket game.
“Hopefully, I’ll go out there and set the tone then people will follow me,” Sandlin said when asked how the staff can repeat last week’s success.
Stevie Powers and Walker Powell, in that order, would follow Sandlin’s start.
The five starters last week, including Mason Strickland and Adam Jackson, combined for an earned run average of 1.06 after giving up only four earned runs in 34.1 innings.
Strickland was the Game 4 starter at the Conference USA tournament, and his complete-game shutout propelled his team to the conference championship game. His performance also landed him the Conference Tournament MVP award.
“That was not the plan going into the tournament, in all honesty,” Berry said when asked if Strickland would start a potential fourth game in the Regional. “We were going game by game, and we would see. We knew our three starters and who they were going to be, just like we do now, and then we would adjust from there depending on who’s left and where the bullpen is. We’ve done really good with that philosophy.”
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It’s worth noting, Strickland was warming up in the bullpen in games prior to his start in the tournament.
Contrary to last season, Southern Miss is coming off a tournament championship and redshirt freshman Gabe Montenegro believes his team can carry that momentum to Fayetteville this weekend.
“For sure,” he said. “It just makes us feel confident in ourselves and in our ability to go and win the Regional.”
Southern Miss struggled to get timely hits throughout the first few ballgames in Biloxi, which came back to bite the Eagles when they left 14 runners on base in the 7-4 loss to Charlotte.
USM left eight runners on base in each of the first two wins, followed by 14 in the loss to Charlotte. On the final day of the tournament, when it had to win twice to raise the trophy, Southern Miss only left six men on base in the second game against the 49ers Sunday morning, then seven in the 12-3 championship win over FAU later in the day.
Southern Miss’ three-hole thought the team was pressing too much in those moments with runners on base.
“It was a mentality thing,” Reynolds said. “We talked about how we have to be prepared for those moments and not have the mindset of ‘Why me?’ in that moment, but more of ‘It’s my time. Let’s go. I want to help the team out right here. I want to help the team win.’ Yeah, it’s just more of a mindset. We talked about that before the game.”
Southern Miss scored 29 runs off 49 hits in five games during the C-USA Tournament, and the team combined for a .293 batting average.
Fayetteville Regional opponents
As of Tuesday, the Golden Eagles haven’t spent much time diving into Dallas Baptist. Berry has his scouting report, but he’ll stick to the same plan that’s been working for Southern Miss all season.
“We’ll stay to what makes us win,” Berry said. “We concentrate on our strengths. We’ve talked about what you can control and what you can’t control all year long, from opponent, to weather, RPI, atmosphere. All those things are insignificant to what we’re trying to do, and that’s to win the game of baseball.
“You have to have an opponent to play. Some opponents are different from others but at the end of the day, you draw strengths to what you do well, you try not to beat yourself and you do all the things it takes to win baseball games.”
DBU features a team that has combined to hit .296 from the plate, which is good for 26th in the nation, and it has the ninth-best home run number, 77. It split a pair of midweek games with Oklahoma, won two out of three against the No. 4 seed Oral Roberts and won a midweek game over Texas Tech to help its resume.
Sandlin believes he’s only faced one player in the Dallas Baptist lineup. It was a summer league game and the DBU player was junior Jameson Hannah, who is second on the team with a .360 batting average and first on the team with 22 doubles.
Sandlin leads the country with a 1.13 ERA and a 0.69 WHIP.
The Razorbacks boast a 30-3 home record this season and they’ve won those games by an average of more than five runs. The No. 5 National Seed lost to LSU in the SEC Tournament Semifinals and they were crownded the Co-Western Division Champions, losing the tiebreaker to Ole Miss.
Oral Roberts has a team batting average of .285 and a team ERA of 3.88.