Southern Miss

Cool under pressure, hot at the plate: Southern Miss seeks title game bid

The Southern Miss baseball team takes the field Saturday one victory away from the program's first Conference USA title game since 2013.

USM takes on Marshall at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in a C-USA Tournament semifinal contest at Pete Taylor Park. Marshall, which beat FIU 7-6 Friday night, will have to top USM twice to reach Sunday's 1 p.m. championship game. The Eagles need only one win to advance to the title round.

If USM loses the 12:30 p.m. game, the two teams will play again at 7:30 p.m.

Louisiana Tech, which eliminated top seed FAU 5-4 Friday in 10 innings, will play undefeated Rice at 9 a.m. on Saturday to determine the other participant in Sunday's title game.

USM (38-18) is hitting the ball as well as it has all season. The Eagles have scored a total of 26 runs in the 15 innings they've sent batters to the plate. Thirteen of those runs have come as the result of five home runs.

"They're seeing (the ball) really well," USM coach Scott Berry said. "You just stay out of their way. They're a team that's playing really, really well together from the top to the bottom of the order."

Senior center fielder Jake Sandlin has two homers in the tournament so far, including a jaw-dropping grand slam to right field in the third inning of Thursday's 9-3 win over Marshall.

Junior catcher Chuckie Robinson also joined with a solo home run of his own on Thursday.

The Eagles have taken full advantage of the home field advantage, playing in front of large, energetic crowds at The Pete. They has handled the pressure well this week and the team is sure to end the program's four-year postseason drought, but they have larger goals in mind.

If USM manages to win Sunday's championship, it will likely be a candidate to host an NCAA Regional next week. The Eagles won't be a sure thing to host thanks to their sweep by FIU in the regular season's final series, but they have a chance with a tournament title.

The Eagles are hoping to keep an even keel before the home crowd Saturday.

"We're not too high, not too low," Robinson said. "We've got to keep confident and keep this momentum going."

USM has yet to announce a starting pitcher for Saturday's contest, but freshman Walker Powell appears to be the likely option. The 6-foot-7 right-hander is 4-3 this season with a 3.50 ERA in 17 appearances, including three late-season starts. Freshman left-hander Stevie Powers (0-1, 4.18) could be another option.

Berry would like senior second baseman/outfielder Chase Scott back in the lineup on Saturday, but his status is unclear after sitting out Thursday's game. He was struck in the cheek by a pitch on Wednesday, but Berry said he did not suffer a concussion

"It's just kind of day-to-day right now," Berry said. "He's pretty swollen. He has a small little fracture below the cheek bone. We've gotten a helmet that protects that area. We'll let the swelling get down a little bit."

Scott is batting .248 with seven homers and 23 RBIs.