Southern Miss finds itself in a pressing situation after losing a tough stretch of games that have likely killed the team’s chances of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. After the past weekend, the Golden Eagles have lost three straight weekend series, have lost six of their last 10 games and have seen their RPI drop to 55. With that said, the team will most likely have to win the Conference USA tournament in order to make to an NCAA regional.
Southern Miss’ pitching staff has had some injuries. Left-handed pitch Ryan Och is still dealing with a pinched nerve, which is what has kept him from pitching since April 16 against Charlotte. Stevie Powers has been dealing with a shoulder injury for most of the season. It goes as far for Southern Miss coach Scott Berry to say that he had the option to undergo surgery and sit the season out but instead opted to pitch through it. Additionally, Mason Strickland has had to deal with several injuries which have caused issues in his pitching.
Aside from that, the Golden Eagles are going to need at least two more arms to step up. Walker Powell and Powers starting is a given since they have started in every weekend series, but the Sunday started has been a rotating door with five different pitchers starting.
Like last season, Southern Miss will need some heroics on the mound similar to Strickland’s performance in last year’s elimination game in the C-USA tournament. Gabe Shepard, Cody Carroll and Adam Jackson are all possible options as starters.
Carroll had a rough outing against UAB and posts a 2-2 record on the season in three starts with his ERA at a 4.37. Jackson is 1-0 in three starts with his most notable start coming against Louisiana Tech but his ERA is now a 5.00.
The true-freshman Shepard has had to tread lightly with his arm after coming off Tommy John surgery. His last appearance on the mound was a nine-strikeout night against Troy last Tuesday. He can consistently throw 93-94 mph consistently with a slew of pitches at his command.
Despite the hang-ups, Southern Miss still leads C-USA in team ERA at 4.29, which could be the difference if a run is to be made in the tournament.
The Owls series win against Southern Miss was one of the weekend series that the Golden Eagles dropped in the final stretch of the season. Rice enters the tournament after having been swept by Marshall with two of those losses going into extra innings.
Rice secured its spot in the tournament prior to its final weekend against Marshall. In the weekend the Owls rested left-handed pitcher Evan Kravetz. With so many left-handed hitters, Southern Miss has been known to struggle against left-handed pitchers. In Kravetz’s outing against the Golden Eagles, he struck out 10 batters, walked four and gave up just three hits.
From the way it looks, he will be the likely starter against Southern Miss.
Wallner’s bat has heated up as of late despite his slow start in the first half of the season.
In the first 26 games of the season, Wallner hit just three home runs, but in the last 28 he has put up 16, including four in the final weekend series against UAB. Those four home runs earned Wallner National Hitter of the Week honors.
The Golden Eagles are 40-9 all-time when Wallner homers in a game. It’s certainly a trend that could be handy for the tournament. It’s also worth noting that whenever Southern Miss has a multi-home run game, they are 15-1.
After starting 3-5 on the season, midweek games were not friendly for the Golden Eagles. However, since playing Louisiana-Lafayette, Southern Miss has flipped the script and won their last four midweek games. With the first day of the tournament on Wednesday that could be a trend to pay attention too.
It’s important to note that the first and sixth innings for Southern Miss have proven to be the biggest. The Golden Eagles have outscored teams 51-36 in the first inning and posted a 15-2 record when leading after the first inning. In the sixth inning, Southern Miss outscores teams 66-31 and is 29-2 when leading after the sixth.
The final highlight is that there is a perk to being the No. 2 seed in the tournament. As the No. 2 seed, the Golden Eagles will have the opportunity to raise their RPI and will face the higher RPI teams in the C-USA tournament. Although it’s still unlikely for them to get an at-large bid, it still helps build their resume. Rice sits at 143, Marshall is at 178, Louisiana Tech is at 53 and then assuming if Southern Miss makes the conference championship, they would likely play Florida Atlantic who sits at 38.
Southern Miss will face off against Rice at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday.