Following the regular season series finale against Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss (30-21, 13-11 C-USA) will head into the Conference USA tournament as the fifth seed and will face UTSA. The first day of the tournament will be single elimination, while the rest of the tournament is double elimination.
The key to Southern Miss’ success this season has been its pitching staff. The team’s overall ERA of 2.33 leads the conference with the second best coming from Western Kentucky which is 2.83 ERA. The pitching staff has allowed the second lowest number of walks at 101 while given up the lowest amount of home runs in the conference, giving up just 18 for the season.
Junior Abby Trahan has had a stellar season and in 162.2 innings pitched, posted a 1.89 ERA, struck out 129 batters and walked just 31. However, it’s becoming obvious that teams are extensively preparing for her, as in three out of her last four outings she has allowed 14 runs.
This became more obvious after Louisiana Tech struggled against freshman pitchers Kaylan Ladner and Makenna Pierce. The two freshmen have logged consistently solid innings with Pierce posting a 2.72 ERA and Ladner having a 3.38 ERA. With teams usually expecting Trahan, the duo has been a quiet one-two punch. Also in reserve is junior Bailie Springfield, who holds a 2.05 ERA who has developed a solid role as a reliever and has given several adequate starts.
“It’s always easier for freshmen and new players excel because no one has video or conference scouts on them,” Southern Miss coach Wendy Hogue said. “I think everyone has watched a lot of video on [Trahan]. I think after the FIU series there is no doubt LA Tech prepared for her. I think it threw them for a loop when we threw Makenna in the first game yesterday. I feel good about our pitching.”
Sumerlin holds a .333 batting average on the season, but in the past two weeks her bat has significantly picked up. Sumerlin hit three home runs this past weekend against LA Tech. Those three home runs give her a team a leading nine home runs on the season.
However, Sumerlin was forced to leave at the end of Game 3 against LA Tech and was taken to a hospital. Her diagnosis is undisclosed, but the bigger question remains is whether if she can or will be able to play in the C-USA tournament.
With her bat heating up, it would be a major loss to the Golden Eagle lineup. Another problem is that Sumerlin’s glove would be missed in the infield. Heading into the seventh inning, Chase Nelson was moved to shortstop with Heather Hill being moved to second base. Outfielder Madison Rayner has also logged some time at second base. If the defense is to be shaken up this extreme, then Caroline Casey and Beth Taylor’s names get thrown in the mix. My guess is that the most reliable bat will get the nod. It’s certainly a head-scratcher.
Southern Miss draws a rather favorable bracket, and it’s also worth pointing out that the team has not been swept by any C-USA team.
Southern Miss will open play against UTSA, (20-30, 8-16) a team the Golden Eagles swept early in conference play. The winner of that game will play Marshall (36-18, 17-7). Despite losing 6-1 and 6-3 in the first two games, Southern Miss left a combined 13 runners on base. Eventually, the team won the final game against Marshall 5-0.
If Southern Miss beats Marshall the team would face the No. 1 seed North Texas, (34-17, 19-5) which is another team the Golden Eagles had the opportunity to sweep. In Game 1, Southern Miss trailed 7-1 but rallied back four runs late in the game. In the second game, Southern Miss jumped out to a 3-0 lead but dropped the game 4-3 before closing the series with a 7-3 win.
“I think the maturity of this team has finally set in,” Hogue said. “Anytime you have 10 new players, even if they already know how to win, you got to learn how to win together. I think that’s what we’ve done. I feel like we’re going into the tournament playing some of our best ball.”