Southern Miss

Southern Miss headed to Florida State for NCAA Tournament

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD 
 Southern Miss pitcher Connor O'Brien celebrates winning the C-USA championship game over Rice on Sunday May 29, 2016 at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD Southern Miss pitcher Connor O'Brien celebrates winning the C-USA championship game over Rice on Sunday May 29, 2016 at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg. SUN HERALD

HATTIESBURG -- Southern Miss found out what NCAA baseball regional they would play in so quickly Monday that they hadn't even finished their lunch.

But the Golden Eagles put down their forks for a while when they learned they would play South Alabama in the opening round of the Tallahassee, Fla., regional at 11 a.m. Friday. USM is seeded second in the tournament and South Alabama is third.

"Tallahassee was coming up (on the selection show on the big-screen TV) but I really wasn't paying that much attention just because it was so unexpected but everybody started cheering and I looked up and Southern Miss pops up," said designated hitter Daniel Keating of Gulfport, who was named the Most Valuable Player in the Conference USA tournament last week.

Many had thought that USM would be sent to Starkville, Oxford or Lafayette, La. But the selection show got to its fourth regional, Tallahassee, and there was Southern Miss.

"It's a little unexpected, Tallahassee," Keating said. "We like our chances there."

South Alabama may be saying the same thing, especially about Friday's tournament opener.

Southern Miss (40-18), which qualified for the NCAA Tournament by winning the Conference USA championship, played South Alabama (40-20) twice during the regular season. South Alabama won both times, 9-3 on March 1 at Mobile, Ala., and 4-2 on March 2 at Biloxi.

"It'll be a good challenge for us," Golden Eagles coach Scott Berry said.

The other first-round game will pit Tallahassee regional host Florida State (37-20), the No. 1 seed, against No. 4 seed Alabama State (38-15), at 5 p.m.

Both games will be carried by ESPN3 and WatchESPN.com.

"It was the quickest I've ever seen our name come up," Berry said. "One thing about it, we were able to continue to eat (as the show went on).

"It was exciting to see Southern Miss' name up there, having been absent for four years. It brought back a lot of memories and really, very honestly, I'm very proud of our guys and our coaching staff to get this opportunity."

USM was hoping to host a regional, but found out Sunday night that wouldn't happen, that it would not be one of the 16 regional sites.

But they got the next best thing.

"It's tough to get in there," Berry said. "Three-hundred teams are trying to get one of those 64 (tournament) spots."

Berry said it was the way the team got along that factored into the good season.

"The key to our team is not anything you'll find in the stat column," he said. "It's basically chemistry and it starts with our seniors and how they've welcomed all the newcomers and freshmen into our program. Everybody has bought in to one another for a goal to do whatever it takes to be successful.

"Chemistry is something we all want, but there are years you don't have it. We had it from the very first game on. We had it back in the fall but it all started with the seniors who had never gotten to a regional. Getting left out last year left a bad taste in everybody's mouth and that was the chip on our shoulder that we carried."

Tim Lynch, the first baseman who was one of four defensive parts of the double relay for the final out of the C-USA title-clinching game, almost missed the announcement, despite being a senior.

"I wasn't really paying attention, and I glanced up and saw we were playing South Alabama," he said, "and I was like, 'Well, all right.'

"Now, at least, we don't have to sit around and hear the rest of these bad commercials to find out where we are playing."

Watch Southern Miss pull off an 8-6-3-2 play and celebrate 3-2 win over Rice in the Conference USA title game in Hattiesburg.

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