The Southern Miss baseball team takes on Tulane at 7 p.m. Tuesday night in an important mid-week contest between former Conference USA rivals at MGM Park in Biloxi.
Both teams have had successful seasons to this point with USM sitting at 16-5 and 2-1 in C-USA competition after taking two of three from Marshall over the weekend on a long road trip to Charleston, W.Va. Tulane (13-7) is coming off a big weekend at Texas, where it also took two of three games to earn a No. 30 ranking in this week's Collegiate Baseball poll.
USM will trot out junior right-hander Houston Case for his first start of the season against the Green Wave. He has appeared in two games this season with a 5.40 ERA in 3 1/3 innings. He has three strikeouts and a pair of walks.
Case, a native of Brookhaven, is in his first year at USM after transferring from Hinds County Community College.
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USM coach Scott Berry said Monday that senior right-hander Nick Johnson, who made mid-week starts the last two weeks, has a shot to throw this weekend against UTSA in a three-game series that will run Thursday-Saturday in Hattiesburg. Tulane coach David Pierce is in his second year on the job and he will rely on sophomore right-hander J.P. France to take the mound against USM. France is 0-0 with a 4.11 ERA in seven games this season, including two starts. He has 21 strikeouts and eight walks in 15 1/3 innings.
While USM has been ignored in national polls like Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball, it is sitting pretty in the RPI rankings. The Golden Eagles entered Tuesday's game ranked No. 13 in RPI, according to WarrenNolan.com.
"I haven't checked our RPI," USM coach Scott Berry admitted Monday. "I got so frustrated with it last year that I don't even check it anymore. Every game is important and this will be another important mid-week game."
USM was left out of the NCAA Tournament last year with an RPI ranking of No. 58 and a record of 36-18-1.
The Green Wave have some work to do in the RPI rankings at No. 72.
Tulane has shown some pop at the plate this season with a total of 20 home runs. Hunter Hope leads the way with five homers in 68 at-bats. Junior catcher Jake Rogers is the top batter for Tulane with a .319 average, three homers and 12 RBIs.
USM out-paces Tulane at the plate in batting average (.306) and homers (26).
Junior leadoff man Dylan Burdeaux has tied Taylor Braley for the USM team lead in homers with five. Burdeaux is batting .318 with 17 runs scored and 15 RBIs.
"Hitting comes in cycles sometimes. Burdeaux and (volunteer assistant B.A. Vollmuth) spent some time working on some things a couple of weeks ago," Berry said. "He seems much more confident in that leadoff spot. His average is up and his on base percentage is up. He's getting more comfortable and he's not missing pitches as much."
While USM has three key contributors from the Coast in outfielder/DH Daniel Keating (Gulfport), shortstop Tracy Hadley (Pascagoula) and utility man Michael Gilbert (Harrison Central), Tulane has two players from the Coast - redshirt sophomore outfielder Grant Brown and freshman infielder/pitcher Jonathon Artigues.
Brown, a former Gulfport star, is batting .175 in 40 at-bats with a homer and seven RBIs. He has played in 17 games this season, starting 12.
Artigues is on pace to receive a redshirt this season after signing with the Green Wave out of St. Stanislaus.
Hot bat: USM senior outfielder Jake Sandlin, a transfer from Div. II Georgia College, shared the Conference USA Hitter of the Week honor Monday with FAU's Stephen Kerr.
Sandlin hit safely in all four games last week to push his streak to a team-high eight games. He opened the week with a 4-for-4 effort at the plate with three runs scored in a 9-2 win over Alabama in Hattiesburg. He finished the week 9-of-18 with five runs scored.
Sandlin leads USM with a .385 batting average and ranks second on the squad with 18 runs scored.