The stage is set for the Hattiesburg Regional in the NCAA Baseball Tournament, and you better get your tickets ASAP.
Southern Miss learned Sunday night it would host a regional. On Monday, the NCAA announced that the Golden Eagles would be the No. 1 seed, Mississippi State would be second, South Alabama third and Illinois-Chicago No. 4.
In Friday’s opening round, Southern Miss (48-14) will play the Horizon League champion Illinois-Chicago Flames (39-15) at 1 p.m. and Mississippi State (36-24) will play South Alabama (39-19) at 6 p.m..
“I like it a lot,” said USM junior Daniel Keating, a former Gulfport High School standout. “We’re going to get with South (Alabama) and (Mississippi State). I don’t know anything about (Illinois-Chicago).
“Obviously, the Mississippi State-Southern Miss game, if we get to that, is going to be just insane.”
Golden Eagles’ coach Scott Berry was an assistant coach the only other time the team hosted a regional, in 2003. But he’s happy with his team and the regional, too.
“I’m excited, very excited,” Berry said. “Proud for our program, our players, coaches and fan base. It’s been 14 years since we’ve had one. It was a great time in ’03 and the program has come a long way since then. That was kind of when everything kind of started, honestly, back then. Very grateful to have this opportunity to have it back in Hattiesburg. We certainly don’t take it lightly.”
The winner of the Hattiesburg regional will play the winner of the Baton Rouge, La., regional. The teams in that regional are LSU, Southeastern Louisiana, Rice and Texas Southern.
But first, the teams must get by three, or four, days in Hattiesburg.
On Friday, opening-round games in the double-elimination regional will be played. On Saturday, the losers of Friday’s games will play each other at 1 p.m. and the winners of Friday’s games will play at 6 p.m. Games will continue on Sunday, at 1 and 6 p.m., and on Monday, if necessary, at 6 p.m.
Although television could dictate a time change for Friday’s games, Berry wants to be on the field at 1 p.m.
“I personally want to play the early game,” Berry said. “I just feel like that gives us a better chance to recover (for Saturday’s game), win or lose. We have a lot of rain forecast so I don’t want to be hung in a late game that starts at 9 o’clock at night. I don’t want it to affect our crowd. Some may argue that it will. I apologize but I’m trying to do the best for our club to win. I feel like they’ll be out there to support us.”
Three crowds of more than 4,000 fans showed up to watch the Eagles playing in last weekend’s Conference USA Baseball Tournament at MGM Park in Biloxi, and an almost-packed house showed up Monday morning at Mugshots restaurant to join the baseball team learn their regional opponents.
There was a big cheer when ESPN announced the Hattiesburg regional. And there was a big buzz when Mississippi State was put in the field.
Southern Miss defeated Mississippi State 7-5 at Pearl on March 21.
Southern Miss defeated South Alabama 4-2 in March 28 at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg and beat the Jaguars 13-7 on April 25 at Mobile, Ala.
“Anybody’s good at this point,” Berry said. “You get in the 64, you’ve done what you’re supposed to do or you’ve got hot at the right time. Everybody’s got a new sense of urgency about themselves.
“This is a whole new season for everybody. Sixty-four people trying to be one of eight standing in Omaha (for the College World Series). So we’re familiar with Mississippi State, same way they are with us. Same with South Alabama. We’ll try to get reports on Illinois-Chicago. It’s a great field of four that I certainly feel will provide a lot of entertainment for everybody in Hattiesburg.”
Keating, a right-handed hitter, already had checked out Illinois-Chicago by the time he got on the team bus to go from Mugshots back to the ballpark.
“I know they’re going to start a lefty, it looks like, so that will be good,” Keating said. “His numbers are pretty decent. I guess we’ll start watching video on them and learn a little bit more.”
Keating’s take on the regional?
“We’re just going to have to come out early and put up runs,” he said.
As for Berry, playing at The Pete will be great.
“We’re happy to have it here, trust me,” Berry said. “You get to sleep in your own bed, you have your own routine that you do. You’re familiar with the park. So everything should play in your favor.
“That doesn’t mean there’s a guarantee that you win. You go out and compete to play the game no matter where you are. But we’re glad to be at Pete Taylor Park.”
Mississippi State first-year coach Andy Cannizaro talked positively, too, about being in postseason play.
“It’s such an awesome time of the year,” he said today to media in Starkville. “We’re extremely excited. Our guys have performed at an extremely high level all year and today is an award for their season so far. Now we’ll begin our second phase of the season.
“It’s our fourth time playing South Alabama. They are extremely talented. Southern Mississippi has had an incredible season. And look at Illinois-Chicago’s record. Everybody is good this time of the year.”
Friday, June 2
Game 1 – No. 1 Southern Miss (48-14) vs. No. 4 UIC (39-15), TBD (ESPN 3)
Game 2 – No. 2 Mississippi State (36-24) vs. No. 3 South Alabama, TBD (ESPN 3)
Saturday, June 3
Game 3 – Loser of Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, TBD (ESPN 3)
Game 4 – Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, TBD (ESPN 3)
Sunday, June 4
Game 5 – Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, TBD (ESPN 3)
Game 6 – Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, TBD (ESPN 3)
Monday, June 5
Game 7 – If necessary, TBD (ESPN 3)
For ticket information, visit SouthernMiss.com or call 1-800-844-TICK.