Southern Miss

Southern Miss’ Hattiesburg Regional may be the nation’s deepest

Southern Miss junior Taylor Braley swings at a UTSA pitch on Friday at MGM Park in Biloxi.
Southern Miss junior Taylor Braley swings at a UTSA pitch on Friday at MGM Park in Biloxi. ttisbell@sunherald.com File

You may as well call it the Regional of Death.

Southern Miss, which drew some serious consideration as a national seed, serves as the No. 1 seed and the host in this weekend’s Hattiesburg Regional at Pete Taylor Park.

The Golden Eagles, who are the Conference USA regular season champs, rank second in the nation in total wins with a record of 48-14.

When the other three participants in the Hattiesburg Regional were revealed on Monday, it was obvious that USM had no easy road ahead to reach the Super Regional.

No. 2 seed Mississippi State, No. 3 South Alabama and No. 4 Illinois-Chicago help make up one of the toughest regionals in the tournament.

Mississippi State, which was a strong candidate to host before losing in five of its last six regular season games, is 36-24 after a 2-2 run in the SEC Tournament.

South Alabama (39-19), which is coming off a Sun Belt Conference tournament championship, had the potential of being a No. 2 seed this week with 16 wins in their last 19 games.

UIC is far from a pushover with a record of 39-15 following a dominant run through the Horizon League.

Whoever wins in Hattiesburg this week will have to play the winner of the Baton Rouge Regional.

USM will play UIC at 1 p.m. on Friday and USA-MSU will follow at 6 p.m.

Here’s a closer look at the four teams in the Hattiesburg Regional:

1. Southern Miss

How they got here: The Golden Eagles have one of the most potent lineups in the nation. Junior third baseman/pitcher Taylor Braley and senior first baseman Dylan Burdeaux were both expected to produce this season, but the additions of junior right fielder Mason Irby and freshman outfielder Matt Wallner have put the USM lineup on a different level. USM bats .311 as a team.

Best bat: Wallner began to get hot at the plate over the last two days of the Conference USA tournament in Biloxi. The Minnesotan rolls in with a .345 batting average, a team-leading 19 homers and 61 RBIs.

Top arm: Braley put in the best performance on the mound for USM in the C-USA tournament, throwing 8 shutout innings against UTSA. He is 6-2 with a 3.30 ERA in 13 games.

Impressive stat: The Golden Eagles have hit 85 homers to rank third in the nation.

Southern Miss beat Charlotte 6-5 Saturday to stay alive in the C-USA tournament in Biloxi.

2. Mississippi State

How they got here: The Bulldogs were again hard to handle in the SEC this season, but a late stumble in conference play has them in Hattiesburg as the No. 2 seed. The Bulldogs hit well as a team, .285, but a staff ERA of 4.89 has to be an area of concern for the postseason.

Best bat: Brent Rooker’s junior season will stand out as one of the best in program history. He earned the SEC triple crown this year with a .404 batting average, 21 homers and 76 RBIs.

Top arm: Former East Central standout Konnor Pilkington has been solid as the MSU ace this season. He is 7-5 with a 3.13 ERA in 15 starts. The lefty has allowed only 68 hits in 95 innings.

Impressive stat: Every hitting category for Rooker.

3. South Alabama

How they got here: The Jaguars joined USM as one of the hotter teams in the nation to close out the season. D’Iberville product Dylan Hardy helped power the Jaguars to a Sun Belt tournament title with three homers last week.

Best bat: Sophomore outfielder Travis Swaggerty is batting .361 with 10 homers and 56 RBIs. He has also stolen 19 bases in 25 tries.

Best arm: Matt Peacock, a right-hander, has pitched in 25 games out of the bullpen, registering 10 saves with a 2.88 ERA.

Impressive stat: The Jaguars led the Sun Belt with a .308 batting average.

4. Illinois-Chicago

How they got here: The Flames aren’t your typical No. 4 seed with a record of 39-15. Their most impressive moment of the season came in late February when they took 2-of-3 from Vanderbilt in Nashville. It’s all about pitching for UIC, which ranks second in the nation with a staff ERA of 2.57.

Best bat: Junior catcher Rob Calabres is batting .357 with seven homers and 48 RBIs.

Best arm: Senior left-hander Jake Dahlberg seems likely to be the man that USM will face on Friday. He is 10-2 with a 2.09 ERA in 15 starts.

Impressive stat: Sophomore closer Alex Padilla has 10 saves and a 0.49 ERA in 27 appearances.

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