For the first time since 2015, the Southern Miss baseball team enters the final week of the regular season with its postseason fate in some question.
The Golden Eagles are coming off back-to-back disappointing weekends, falling 1-2 to both FAU and Rice. This all follows a nine-game winning streak for the Golden Eagles in what has been one of the more up-and-down seasons of Scott Berry’s 10 years as head coach. The team has two win streaks of eight games or more, but it has also shown the ability to hit a skid and now is not the time for another tumble.
The problem for USM is that is doesn’t have one facet of the team that it can rely on every time it takes the field. While the pitching staff has been adequate as a whole, junior ace Walker Powell (6-2, 2.89) is the only starter that has delivered nearly every outing. The defense has struggled on occasion and the offense has been hot and cold all year.
The home stretch
USM, which was set to host Troy Tuesday night, will play its final conference series of the season when UAB travels to Hattiesburg for a three-game series that starts at 6 p.m. on Thursday. If the Golden Eagles are to have any chance of clinching their third consecutive Conference USA regular season title, a sweep of the Blazers seems to be a necessity.
USM (32-17, 19-8) and FAU (34-17, 19-8) are tied atop the C-USA standings. Thanks to FAU’s series win in Hattiesburg, the Owls will have the No. 1 seed for the Conference USA Tournament if the two teams finish tied. FAU hosts Middle Tennessee this weekend.
The C-USA tournament will run May 22-26 at MGM Park in Biloxi and feature eight teams. Four squads have already locked up bids — FAU, USM, Western Kentucky (24-24-1, 15-11-1) and Louisiana Tech (32-20, 15-12). Rice (23-28, 14-13) and Old Dominion (32-18, 14-13) each need a single win this weekend to clinch a bid.
No team has been officially eliminated from the tournament with Marshall (24-26, 11-15), UTSA (24-27, 11-15), FIU (22-29, 11-16), Middle Tennessee (18-33, 11-16), Charlotte (19-29-1, 10-16-1) and UAB (25-27, 10-17) all in a scramble for the final two spots.
FAU appears to be in a strong position to land an at-large bid with the conference’s best RPI ranking of No. 34. USM sits eight spots behind at No. 42.
If the season ended today, both teams would be safely in the NCAA tournament.
For USM to avoid any further hits to its case for an at-large bid, it will need to turn things around with a series win over a last-place UAB squad and win a couple of games in the conference tournament. Even with an early exit in the C-USA tournament, the Golden Eagles would still be in the discussion for a No. 3 seed in a regional.
Louisiana Tech, which has an RPI ranking of No. 52, could jump into the at-large discussion if it wins a series at FIU this weekend and makes a strong run through the conference tournament.
However, Biloxi has not been kind to La. Tech. The Bulldogs are 1-4 at MGM Park since the tournament first moved there in 2017.
All the other teams in Biloxi will be aiming for a championship trophy to lock up the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
At the moment, USM has some work to do if it is to defend its C-USA regular season and tournament titles from a year ago.