USM NCAA Regional Predictions

Pete Taylor Park| Image Courtesy of Southern Miss Athletics

Austin Lindsey

It is an exciting time in Hattiesburg for an exciting ball club. The fans around Pete Taylor Park are the proof, with record-breaking attendance at tenth in the nation in average attendance.

Finishing the season ranked eleventh in the nation has the Golden Eagles hosting a regional for its third time ever as LSU, Kennesaw State, and Army join the party.

There will be plenty of gold in the stands, and I’m certain that Tigers fans will travel in boatloads to pack the Pete, with LSU having the second-largest attendance in the nation. 

From the seats to the diamond, I predict No.4 seed Army and No. 3 Kennesaw will put up a fight slugging the ball as both clubs hold a respectable .301 batting average.

The issue with Kennesaw is its bullpen, which ranks 191st with a 6.08 ERA.

Army pitches better than Kennesaw behind its ace Connerly Early (7-2, 3.39 ERA) and has the potential to knock off the Owls in the regional but then batting a prominent LSU and Southern Miss will not be enough. 

In the end, the regional will come down to the Tigers and the Golden Eagles. 

My concern for the Golden Eagles is the team’s batting. The bats were not hot in the Conference USA tournament as UTSA ran away from them in its elimination game in the semifinals. 

On the other hand, one hot bat can light a fire, and I see this being Danny Lynch. 

Lynch hit .533 for the conference tournament to earn All-Tournament honors. 

Lynch hasn’t had a season up to his standard batting (.272) but has the capabilities to lead the Golden Eagles, being a much-needed spark plug for the team when they haven’t had it going offensively. 

Lynch has two walk-off hits and a crucial three-run homer that gained the lead against Ole Miss earlier this season, and a hit down the stretch against South Alabama to win it there.

Scheduling of Games

Friday, June 3

Game 1 — No. 1 Southern Miss (43-16) vs. No. 4 Army West Point (31-23), 1 p.m. (ESPN+)

Game 2 — No. 2 LSU (38-20) vs. No. 3 Kennesaw State (35-26), 6 p.m. (ESPN+)

Game 3 — Loser of Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 1 p.m. (ESPN+)

Game 4 — Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 6 p.m. (ESPN+)

Sunday, June 5

Game 5 — Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 1 p.m. (ESPN+)

Game 6 — Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 6 p.m. (ESPN+)

Game 7 — If necessary, 6 p.m. (ESPN+)

I foresee Southern Miss winning its first game facing LSU in game four if they beat Kennesaw State. 

The Golden Eagles win this game as ace Tanner Hall (8-2, ERA 2.69) will get the start as he should have a great outing.

However, I see LSU winning game five versus Kennesaw State or Army and winning game six versus Southern Miss, forcing seven.

The Tigers finished second in the SEC Tournament in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and runs scored. 

Jacob Berry and Dylan Crews lead the crew. Berry is hitting (.381), and Crews (.345) are each future first-rounders in the MLB draft, causing havoc in the Tigers lineup.

The Tigers will struggle with pitching as their bullpen, throwing a 4.09 ERA, has had trouble figuring out its rotation and is not as deep as the Golden Eagles, who should capitalize on this. In many instances, it may become a slugfest.

There is no question that Southern Miss has one of the best bullpens in the nation, ranking first in the strikeout-walk ratio (4.39), second in strikeouts (668), WHIP (1.13), ERA (3.16), and third in walks allowed per nine innings (2.57).

If Southern Miss wins the regional, the critical component will be their ability to score early and often to give their pitchers some breathing room, and if they are in a slugfest, can this team survive. 

The Golden Eagles also have to find a way to prolong innings in two-out situations, something they have struggled with this season.

Dima Mixon

Coming into this season, the hype behind the Southern Miss baseball team was at an all-time high. The ticket office announced that it had shattered its record of season ticket sales in the preseason and everyone was ready to see this ballclub get out on the diamond and play.

This team certainly lived up to the hype. They have put together one of the greatest regular seasons in school history, breaking records, beating defending national champions, winning games in walk-off fashion and shattering attendance records- all to get to this moment to win a national title.

On Sunday evening, the NCAA announced that Southern Miss would be hosting an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2017. 

The excitement from that announcement flowed into Monday morning when the NCAA announced the full field of 64 and the teams that will be joining Southern Miss in Hattiesburg. 

The winner of this Regional will play the winner of the Coral Gables Regional, which has Miami, Arizona, Ole Miss and Canisius.

Southern Miss has made it to an NCAA Regional five straight years now (not including 2020 – Covid), but they have not advanced.

Is this the year that Southern Miss can climb over the daunting task of winning an NCAA Regional? 

Let’s start with the No. 4 seed, Army. Southern Miss is taking on Army at 1 p.m. on Friday to kick things off in what should be an exciting regional.

The Black Knights are coming off winning their fourth-straight conference crown to earn the league’s automatic bid to the big dance. Army also won the Patriot League regular-season title and the conference tournament.

However, Army is 11-14 on the road this season, and they have just seven wins over teams with winning records.

Army’s leading hitter Sam Ruta bats a .385, with six home runs and 35 RBIs. Following him is Ross Friedrick, who bats a .346 along with six home runs and a team-high 49 RBIs. 

Teams will have to watch Army at all times as they have stolen 101 bases this season, only being caught 19 times.

Army also has a nasty lefty pitcher in Connelly Early, who could start against Southern Miss on Friday night. Early has an ERA of 3.39, and he has allowed just 30 earned runs.

Southern Miss should not have an issue with this lineup from Army as the Black Knights haven’t seen a staff like this Southern Miss pitching staff before. 

The No. 3 seed is Kennesaw St. Kennesaw has a 35-26 record on the season and reached the big dance after winning the ASUN Tournament Championship by winning three elimination games in a row.

The Owls have boasted a team total of .301 batting average and have an excellent duo of Josh Hatcher and Donovan Cash, who leads the team in batting averages. 

As far as pitching, that’s where the Owls have their issues. This season, the Owls have a 6.08 ERA and allowed 357 runs to opponents. 

Kennesaw State had the third-worst team ERA in the Atlantic Sun. Their best pitcher in stats is John Bezdicek, who has an ERA of 3.75 and has allowed 57 hits and 38 ER.

I think that Southern Miss will likely not have to face the Owls, but if they do, their hitters will finally have their field day, similar to the sweep against Middle Tennessee.

But Southern Miss’s most significant threat to winning this regional is the No. 2 seed LSU. 

LSU was in the conversation to host their own regional most of this season, and given the history of that ball club in the postseason, this team is scary.

The Tigers no doubt have one of the best offenses in the country, not even to mention that two of their best hitters are returning from injury.

One of these players is a projected first-round pick in Jacob Berry and Cade Doughty. The Tigers were No. 2 to the No. 1 team in America, Tennessee, in most hitting categories in the SEC.

Berry leads LSU in batting average with a .381 and has knocked 15 out of the park. 

Every player in LSU’s lineup has multiple home runs, something Southern Miss cannot say. 

Doughty bats a .286 and has a .921 OPS; he has knocked 12 out of the park.

LSU did not have Berry and Doughty for the SEC tournament or against Ole Miss when they got swept by the Rebels. They will have both for this regional.

LSU doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. Their pitching is very good, having a team ERA of 4.09 and their leading pitcher Paul Gervase posting a 2.12 ERA.

Having said all of that, Southern Miss can beat every team in the regional for many reasons.

Their pitching has been their driving force all season, which helps in tournament play. 

They have a team ERA of 3.04 and have a nasty three-person rotation starting with Tanner Hall (2.69), then Hunter Riggins (2.75), and rounding it up with Hurston Waldrep (2.99).

The Achilles heel to this great Golden Eagle ball club is their hitting. It killed them in their slump in the middle of the season, and it killed them in the Conference USA tournament.

The key to a super-regional berth for USM is batting. 

First baseman Christopher Sargent (.251) leads the team in home runs with 20, and second baseman Will McGillis (.276) follows him with 15.

Shortstop Dustin Dickerson leads the team in batting average with a .346 and has not had a home run this season, but he has 30 RBIs.

Prediction

Southern Miss has had a fantastic season, one to remember for a long time. They have had their highs and lows, but this tournament is for all the marbles. 

This is what they have wanted ever since walking off that field in Oxford last season.

At media day, team captain Gabe Montenegro made it clear the team had one goal in mind.

“My goal is to get to Omaha,” Montenegro said. “This year, I want to make it all the way, and I’ll do anything possible to help the team so we can make it all the way.”

Baseball is just as much a mental game as it is a sport. Southern Miss is mentally ready to get over the hump, but can they overcome their batting struggles and LSU’s offense?

This time, the answer is yes.

Southern Miss will beat Army in game one and LSU in game two. They will drop a match to LSU in game three but then advance to the Super-Regional for the first time since 2009 with a win over LSU on Monday night.

Head Coach Scott Berry has preached all year about the team’s goals and chemistry, and this is the time. 

The time is now for Southern Miss to go out and win in front of their home crowd.

Koby Moore

After a surprisingly early exit in the Conference USA Tournament, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles were announced as a regional host. They missed out on the top eight seeds for the tournament, but crazier things have happened in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible in the postseason.

Southern Miss has an advantage because they don’t have to use Tanner Hall or Hurston Waldrep early in the first game, and they could go to the bullpen. 

With the depth they have, they could go to Matt Adams, Ben Ethridge and Niko Mazza, and they would be fine. 

Their batting would also be well, but scoring early is something the Golden Eagles would have to do in this regional, as well as improving on leaving runners on base, especially in late-game situations.

Southern Miss is the favorite to win this regional from the outside looking in. 

I see LSU being the most challenging opponent in the regional for them. The Tigers went 38-20 this year under first-year Head Coach Jay Johnson and got some quality wins in the season against Oklahoma, Florida, Vanderbilt and Auburn. 

They’re led by SEC Co-Player of the Year Dylan Crews, who has a .345 batting average,1.145 OPS and 21 home runs. Also, key pieces like Jacob Berry, Tre’ Morgan, Tyler McManus and many others will come into play, especially on the batting side. 

On the mound, Ma’Khalid Hillard is 7-1 with a 4.04 ERA and 68 strikeouts and the team combined ERA is 4.09.

Kennesaw State and Army are no slouches, though. Kennesaw State won the ASUN Championship this past Sunday, which helped earn them into this regional. 

Josh Hatcher, who was the ASUN Tournament MVP, leads the team with a .386 batting average, 1.092 OPS and 13 home runs. 

Army went 31-23 and are the Patriot League Champions. Sam Ruta leads the team with a .385 batting average, 1.100 OPS, and six home runs. Their team batting average is .301 and their team slugging is .414.

I have Southern Miss winning this regional, but this won’t be an easy route with a lot of blowouts. There will be some close games. 

I think Army on Friday will give them some trouble at first, but they will pull out the win. 

But, I think this is all leading to a rematch from the Baton Rouge Regional a couple of years ago between Southern Miss and LSU. 

Southern Miss came up short against the Tigers around that time, but I think that it’s different this time and the Golden Eagles have a chip on their shoulder with something to prove. 

Jackson Howell

For the third time in school history and the first time since 2017, Southern Miss is hosting an NCAA Regional. 

The first two times were unsuccessful, as the Golden Eagles lost to Baylor in 2003 and Mississippi State in 2017.

That was then, and this is now. Southern Miss (43-16, 23-7 C-USA) holds the highest national seed in school history at number 11. 

The Golden Eagles are near the top in nearly every pitching category, including number two in strikeouts (668), strikeouts per nine innings (11.3), and walks and hits per inning pitched (1.13). 

They rank third in walks per nine innings with 2.57, and they rank first in strikeout-to-walk ratio at 4.39. Southern Miss also has seven shutouts which rank fifth.

While Southern Miss has stellar pitching, hitting is where they falter. The Golden Eagles rank 116th in batting average (.283), 98th in runs scored (381), 138th in runs per game (6.5), 48th in home runs (77), 89th in on-base percentage (.385) and 69th in hits (567).

This is not to say that Southern Miss is a bad-hitting team – in fact, they are above average in all of the above categories. 

However, second-seeded LSU is well above Southern Miss in all of these categories, and Friday’s opponent Army leads Southern Miss in most. It does not help that third-seeded Kennesaw State is ninth in the country in hits with 641.

It has been repeated, but Southern Miss is a team reliant on starting pitching. Tanner Hall, Hunter Riggins and Hurston Waldrep have been excellent for the Golden Eagles. 

However, a fourth starter has not been distinguished. There are numerous options in the loaded Southern Miss bullpen, including Tyler Stuart, Matthew Adams, and even former starter Ben Ethridge in a pinch.

Add in guys like Landon Harper, Chandler Best, Isaiah Rhodes, Dalton Rogers and Garrett Ramsey to name a few, and Southern Miss has quite the arsenal.

Southern Miss seemingly ran out of pitching in the Conference USA Tournament despite this. 

Hunter Riggins pitched a gem against FAU, delivering 7.1 shutout innings. After both Tanner Hall and Hurston Waldrep gave solid yet substandard performances (admittedly, their standard is very high), the bullpen had to go to work. 

Golden Eagles pitching was seemingly out of gas by the fourth game in the C-USA tournament. 

Stuart pitched 4.1 shutout innings in relief, but a five-pitcher platoon gave up 11 runs in an eliminating loss to UTSA.

Hitting also led to Southern Miss’ downfall, but this proved that the Golden Eagle pitching might also have a weakness.

Now that Southern Miss has been analyzed, it is time to look at the teams the Golden Eagles will be hosting.

LSU (38-20, 17-13 SEC) – 2 Seed

Hitting is the name of the game for LSU, and they ended the regular season by averaging over ten runs per game in their final ten games.

What is most impressive about this is they accomplished this without their best player and projected top-10 MLB pick, Jacob Berry. 

Dylan Crews is yet another threat with a .345 batting average with 21 home runs and 68 RBI. LSU is loaded with offensive talent.

Pitching is not the strong suit of LSU, though they certainly hold their own statistically. 

They rank 23rd in both ERA (4.09) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.2), and they rank 22nd in hits allowed per nine innings (8.14). 

They have a solid starter in Ma’Khail Hilliard, and Blake Money has made 12 starts yet has recently made bullpen appearances. 

They have nine pitchers who have started games filling the third and fourth spots in the rotation. Though he has struggled in his last few outings, Samuel Dutton has the third most starts in the rotation. 

Ty Floyd has stepped up and become someone to lean on for LSU in recent games, as he has nine starts on the season. It is imperative not to underestimate LSU’s pitching because they are still one of the best squads Southern Miss will have seen this season.

LSU is the only team in this field to have played common opponents with Southern Miss. 

LSU was swept by Ole Miss in a three-game series towards the end of the season, whereas Southern Miss split two games with the Rebels this season. 

LSU went 3-0 against Mississippi State, and Southern Miss won the showdown in Pearl. LSU went 0-2 against Louisiana Tech, whereas Southern Miss went 2-1. 

Both teams took care of business against Southeastern Louisiana, with LSU dominating their matchup and Southern Miss winning twice. Southern Miss defeated New Orleans twice while LSU went 1-1. 

Southern Miss defeated Tulane twice, and LSU defeated them once. Other than games against LA Tech, Southern Miss and LSU were very similar against these common opponents.

Kennesaw State (35-26, 19-11 ASUN) – 3 Seed

Pitching is where Kennesaw State is most vulnerable, as they fail to crack the top 100 in ERA (6.08 – 191st), strikeouts per nine innings (8.2 – 157th) and hits allowed per nine innings (9.39 – 111th). 

Their two starters, John Bezdicek and Jack Myers, are decent enough with a combined ERA at just under 4.00, but their bullpen is where things fall apart. The Owls will have a tough time if they make it to a third and fourth game.

Kennesaw State makes up for their subpar pitching by having a high-powered offense with five players above a .300 average, including Josh Hatcher at .386. The Owls rank 33rd in batting average at .301 overall. 

They rank 88th in scoring (8.1 runs per game) alongside their high hit total mentioned earlier. In other words, Kennesaw State can absolutely hit the baseball. 

Indeed, they have not faced pitching as good as Southern Miss, but guys like Hatcher at .386 will be able to find a way to get on base.

Army Black Knights (31-23, 18-7 Patriot) – 4 Seed

Army is very similar to Kennesaw State in that they hit the ball well and are less than stellar on the mound. 

They rank 70th in ERA (4.76) and 48th in hits allowed per nine innings (8.67). The Black Knights are not a team that strikes many batters out, as they rank 259th with 7.1. 

Southern Miss will likely see Connelly Early when the two face off Friday. Early is easily the best starting pitcher on the team, with a 3.39 ERA and 80 strikeouts.

Army and Kennesaw State are very close in batting average, with Army having the same batting average (.301). Army’s top batter Sam Ruta bats .385 – one point less than Hatcher of Kennesaw State. 

Southern Miss does have the edge over Army in hits as the Golden Eagles have 567 compared to the Black Knights’ 551 (87th). Army is a formidable foe, but not the team that will keep Scott Berry up at night.

Prediction

Overall, I see this regional coming down to the top two teams. Army and Kennesaw State are good programs, but they are simply outmatched when it comes to Southern Miss and LSU. 

The question is whether or not the Golden Eagles can slow down LSU’s potent offense.

Southern Miss’ best bet is to save Tanner Hall and Hurston Waldrep for games two and three, as they will be needed if they face LSU. 

If Hunter Riggins pitches against Army and pitches well, then the Golden Eagles are in a great spot.

They say great pitching beats great hitting in the postseason, but LSU’s Berry will try to change that. 

This means LSU will be at full strength to combat Southern Miss’ pitching juggernaut. The unstoppable force meets the immovable object.

If the Regional comes down to LSU and Southern Miss, it is a toss-up between who would prevail. 

I give the slight edge to Southern Miss, but LSU could easily walk away with it. My official prediction is that Southern Miss will advance to their second-ever Super Regional, and the first since 2009.