Sun Belt Baseball Tournament in-depth Preview and Predictions

At 37-16, the No. 16 ranked Southern Miss Golden Eagles head to Montgomery, Alabama, for the Sun Belt Baseball Championship. In their inaugural year in the Sun Belt, Southern Miss holds the No. 2 seed in the tournament just behind No. 7 ranked Coastal Carolina (37-17). Coastal Carolina bested Southern Miss in a weekend series earlier in the season, proving the difference.

Here are the ten teams that qualified for the tournament in Montgomery and their seeds:

  1. Coastal Carolina
  2. Southern Miss
  3. Troy
  4. Louisiana
  5. Texas State
  6. Appalachian State
  7. James Madison
  8. Georgia State
  9. Georgia Southern
  10. Old Dominion

Here is the bracket

The good news for Southern Miss is that being the two-seed, they get to play the highest-seeded winner of the single-elimination games on Tuesday. This means that in those games, the teams would have to burn their ace while Southern Miss still has the option to throw Tanner Hall in the game. Tanner Hall vs. someone’s number two is a seemingly pleasing task if you are a Southern Miss fan.


No. 10 Old Dominion (32-22, 15-15) (RPI 85)

Old Dominion comes into the Sun Belt tournament dropping six of their last seven Sun Belt series. They rank ninth in batting average in the Sun Belt at .275 and fifth in pitching at 5.81 ERA as a team.

They are led in batting by junior infielder Hunter Fitz-Gerald batting a .320, leading the team in both RBIs (70) and home runs (22). Alex Bouche is next on the list in RBIs with 45, and he is batting .299 coming into the tournament.

They are led in pitching by their two starting pitchers, Sam Armstrong, and Blake Morgan. Armstrong has an ERA of 3.47 with a WHIP of 1.24, while Morgan has an ERA of 6.37 and a WHIP of 1.67. Armstrong has a team-leading 68 strikeouts to his name.

The Monarchs will face James Madison in the opening round on Tuesday. They lost two out of the three meetings earlier this month.

No. 9 Georgia Southern (27-28, 16-14) (RPI 91)

For a team who hosted an NCAA Regional last season, the Eagles have fallen off the spectrum, given that they would have to win the whole tournament to get into the big dance. However, here they are—coming into the Sun Belt tournament fresh off a series win against James Madison after getting swept by Georgia State the week before, which is whom they play in the first game.

Georgia Southern ranks fifth in the Sun Belt in hitting, with a team average of .295. They are led by their senior infielder Jesse Sherrill who bats with a .405 and leads the team in at-bats with 215. Surprisingly, he does not lead the team in RBIs or home runs. Noah Ledford leads the Eagles in home runs with 15, and Jarrett Brown leads the team in RBIs with 68. This is no lineup to mess around with.

The pitching is where the Eagles have had their struggles. They rank ninth in pitching in the Sun Belt with a team 6.79 ERA. Ty Fisher, their regular ace, is third on the team with an ERA of 7.10; Mitchell Gross leads the team with a 4.25 ERA but only has started a game five times this season.

Ben Johnson is a guy who would face Southern Miss in a hypothetical round-two matchup. Johnson is second on the team with an ERA of 6.19 and has already faced Southern Miss once this season. USM needed Slade Wilks’s heroics to pull out that contest at home in the first of a doubleheader.

Georgia Southern will face off against Georgia State in a single elimination game on Tuesday night, meaning it is win or go home for both squads.

No. 8 Georgia State (29-27, 16-14) (RPI 95)

Georgia State won five of its final six games to get a spot in the bracket at the Sun Belt tournament. The Panthers have struggled this season but have an offense that could be a dark horse to make a run in the tournament. They are No. 10 in the country in home runs, hitting a school record of 106, blasting the old record 82. In their last six games, the Panthers are hitting .355 as a team with nine homers.

Throughout the Sun Belt season, the Panthers have hit a team average of .304 which is second in the Sun Belt, just behind Coastal Carolina. They have been led the entire season by Max Ryerson, who bats a .376 average and has 19 home runs, which is a team-high.

For their pitching, Ryan Watson is their go-to. He has a 6-1 record and a 3.99 ERA and has appeared and started in all 14 weekends this season. As a team, they have a 6.14 ERA which is eighth in the Sun Belt. Outside of Southern Miss, the pitching has not been spectacular by any stretch in the Sun Belt.

Georgia State will face off against Georgia Southern in a single elimination game on Tuesday night, meaning it is win or go home for both squads.

No. 7 James Madison (30-23, 15-13 ) (RPI 99)

James Madison enters a conference tournament for the first time since 2019, earning the seven seed after dropping the Georgia Southern series. The Dukes are one of those scrappy teams who can jump up and get you. They hold steady at fourth in Sun Belt offense through sun belt play with a team average of .296. They do not hit for power with only 49 home runs throughout the season, but they will find ways to push runs across with 370 total RBIs.

The Dukes are led in offense by their senior infielder Kyle Novak who bats with a .365 and has just two home runs on the season but is second on the team in RBIs with 40. Fenwick Trimble leads the team in the home runs category (13) and the RBI category (52). They have an offense, while stagnant sometimes, and can threaten you whenever they feel the need.

As for pitching, the Dukes have struggled. Posting a team ERA of 6.34 throughout the season, which is seventh in the Sun Belt, pitching has been the Achilles heel for this team to accomplish goals they had set forth at the beginning of the season.

James Madison will face Old Dominion in a single elimination game on Tuesday. The Dukes beat the Monarchs two out of three times this season.

No. 6 Appalachian State (27-23, 16-13) (RPI 97)

Appalachian State enters the Sun Belt tournament off the breaks of some tough series losses at Coastal Carolina and Troy. But they have earned the sixth seed in the tournament and are on the side of the bracket with Southern Miss. The Mountaineers are another one of those teams who can sometimes play well and sometimes not. They are a scrappy team, just like James Madison, who does not hit for power but for runs.

They are hitting .283 as a team, sixth in the Sun Belt. They are led by CJ Boyd, who bats with a .353 batting average and has driven across 45 RBIs on the season, which is second on the team. Golston Gillespie leads the team in home runs (15) and RBIs (50) but is ninth on the team in batting average and has struck out 78 times this season.

Pitching is a real struggle for App State. They do not have a definite starter outside of their ace Xander Hamilton who throws for a 5.38 ERA. Bradley Watson is generally the next starter they throw out there, and he has an ERA of 10.08, so you can see where the Mountaineer’s struggles have been this season.

Appalachian State will play Troy in a double-elimination game on Wednesday, May 23.

No. 5 Texas State (35-21, 17-13) (RPI 52)

We see a significant jump from six to five in records and RPI, which shows the tight race that this tournament will have to offer. Texas State, who is fighting for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, would like nothing less than win this tournament so they are not biting their fingers on election day. Unlike the other teams discussed so far, Texas State has struggled at the plate in the latter half of the season. They bat a .274 as a team, which is nowhere near where Slam Marcos is generally at. They rank 12th in batting through Sun Belt play behind every other team in this tournament.

The good news is that they have the talent to change that up when they are back against the wall. That all starts with Jose Gonzalez and Chase Mora. Gonzalez is third on the Bobcats in batting average but first in RBIs with 58. Mora is behind him with 54 RBIs of his own but also a team-leading 17 home runs. Make no mistake, this is no team to mess with, especially with how hungry they are to improve their resume and get into the tournament.

Their pitching has improved as well. They throw an ERA of 5.55 and are fifth through Sun Belt play in ERA. Levi Wells is a name you will want to get to know. Wells throws a 4.76 ERA and has a team-high 90 strikeouts.

Texas State takes on Louisiana in a double-elimination game on Wednesday, May 23.

No. 4 Louisiana (36-20, 18-12) (RPI 67)

Louisiana, one of the hotter teams in the Sun Belt, is coming off a series loss at Southern Miss after two straight Sun Belt sweeps, including Texas State, whom they will play in the opening round. The Ragin Cajuns are a dangerous team, they do not hit for power, but they can score many runs quickly, mainly led by their arms. They are seventh in the Sun Belt in batting average at .287 but second in the Sun Belt in pitching, with a team ERA of 5.12.

If you have an excellent offensive team, the Ragin Cajuns will need help finding ways to beat you. But if you have a team that struggles at the plate and they get a hold of a few pitches off your guys, this team will beat you. Louisiana is led on the offense by Kyle DeBarge, who has a batting average of .357 and has 32 RBIs on the season. But their most productive hitter is Julian Brock, who has a team-high 59 RBIs along with a team-high 11 home runs.

On the mound is where the Cajuns flourish. Jackson Nezuh is their ace, and he throws a 6.72 ERA but don’t let the numbers fool you, as he has struck out a team-high 84 batters and only allowed nine home runs on the season. He kept the USM lineup in check last Friday night, aside from one hit from Matthew Etzel.

Louisiana faces Texas State in a double-elimination game on Wednesday, May 23. Louisiana swept Texas State in their meeting this season.

No. 3 Troy (38-18, 18-12) (RPI 35)

The Trojans come into Montgomery winners of their final three Sun Belt series to earn them the three seed in the tournament. Troy has had a solid season, is well in line for an NCAA tournament berth, and is a definite candidate to win the Sun Belt tournament. They are on Southern Miss’s side of the bracket and have played them this year. USM took the series in Troy by winning the rubber match 13-3.

Troy, like UL, doesn’t hit the ball great, but they can pitch. One guy on their team can hit the ball really well, though. That’s Sun Belt Baseball Player of the Year, Shane Lewis. Lewis led the Sun Belt with 28 home runs, 78 RBI, 154 total bases, and a .794 slugging percentage while ranking among the Top 10 in the conference with 63 runs scored and a .461 on-base percentage.

As far as their arms, the Trojans rely on their ace Grayson Steward who has an ERA of 3.20 and a record of 9-2, along with a team-high 86 strikeouts. Brady Fuller is their next man up, and he throws a 6.18 ERA along with 70 strikeouts.

Troy faces Appalachian State in a double-elimination game on Wednesday, May 23.

No. 2 Southern Miss (37-16, 22-8) (RPI 28)

After a rough start to the season, Southern Miss won 14 games in a row before their win streak got snapped by Louisiana, but USM was able to win the series still. It’s safe to say Southern Miss is the hottest team in the Sun Belt right now in all areas and, I think, the favorite to win this tournament. The Golden Eagles rank first in the Sun Belt in pitching with a 4.63 ERA, they are the only team with less than a 5.0 ERA, and they are third in batting with a .298.

They are led on offense by their all-star shortstop Dustin Dickerson, who bats a .321. He has been around the postseason a lot in his Golden Eagle career, so none of this is new to him. Matthew Etzel, who has been on fire lately, follows him with a .316 batting average. But don’t forget about Slade Wilks, who has cannon power and is the team leader in home runs (18) and RBIs (53). The thing about Southern Miss is that if one of these players happens to have a bad day, everyone else in the lineup can step up. Every major player has multiple home runs outside of Rodrigo Montenegro. Oh, and did I mention that team captain Danny Lynch is coming off of two grand slams in one game, and their home run leader from last year, Christopher Sargent, looks like his usual self?

Not even to mention, on the mound, they have one of the best pitchers in the country, Tanner Hall. Hall, the Sun Belt pitcher of the year, led the Sun Belt with 11 wins and a 2.45 ERA over a conference-high 88.0 innings pitched. He had his second straight 100k+ season while holding opponents to a conference-low .203 batting average. Behind him is a wave of talent with Niko Mazza, Billy Oldham, Matthew Adams, and Will Armistead.

This team is loaded and a massive threat to anyone who faces them.

Southern Miss awaits the highest-ranked seed after the single-elimination games are played on Tuesday.

No. 1 Coastal Carolina (37-17, 23-7) (RPI 13)

If there is any team to beat in the Sun Belt right now, it’s Coastal Carolina. Every team has been chasing the Chanticleers all season, and there is no reason to assume that will change this weekend in Montgomery. The Chanticleers aren’t only battling for a regional host opportunity, but they are also fighting for a national seed; that’s how good a year they have had. Not only to mention that seven of the nine in the lineup are batting above .300. That’s a really scary stat and something that all teams worry about, “Can we outhit Coastal?”

Payton Eeles leads the Chants batting a .384 with three home runs and 37 RBIs. Derek Bender leads the team in RBIs with 78 and 18 home runs, followed by Nick Lucky’s 54 RBIs and 13 home runs. Their offense is stupidly good and will and can compete with the highest offenses in the country.

However, their pitching remains a huge question mark and has bit them in the past couple of weeks. They have a team total of 6.28 ERA which is not very good for a team that’s ranked in the top 10, and their bullpen hasn’t looked shutdown at all. That’s the big question mark for them in a tournament. Can their bullpen bring them to the championship?

Coastal Carolina awaits the lowest-ranked seed after the single eliminations games are played on Tuesday.


Here is my predicted bracket:


I have Southern Miss winning because I feel like their side of the bracket is super easy. And they have the pitching to get through the tournament without a loss. I think the Hall, Oldham, Adams, and Mazza rotation will be too much for opposing bullpens to handle. Therefore, Southern Miss wins the Sun Belt tournament.