Southern Miss

Southern Miss seeks crucial game 1 win vs. South Alabama in Tallahassee

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD 
 Southern Miss coach Scott Berry encourages his team between innings of their C-USA championship game against Rice on Sunday May 29, 2016 at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD Southern Miss coach Scott Berry encourages his team between innings of their C-USA championship game against Rice on Sunday May 29, 2016 at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg. SUN HERALD

The Southern Miss and South Alabama baseball programs are set to play Friday in one of the biggest games in the history of the 92-game rivalry.

The series started in 1967 and the Jaguars lead the overall series, 59-33. The two teams met twice this season with South Alabama coming away with wins in both games, 9-3 in Mobile on March 1 and 4-2 in Biloxi the next night.

At 11 a.m. Friday, the two teams meet in the first game of the Tallahassee, Fla., NCAA Regional at 6,700-seat Dick Howser Stadium on the campus of Florida State.

It will mark the first time the two teams have played in the postseason since Southern Miss beat South Alabama, 20-13 and 10-9, in the 1999 Tuscaloosa, Ala., Regional.

"We're two clubs that know each other and respect each other and we know what each other has," USM coach Scott Berry said. "That's probably about as familiar as you can be with an opponent."

Even though USM has already taken a pair of losses to one of its biggest non-conference rivals this season, don't expect that to provide extra motivation for the Eagles on Friday.

"We're trying to get to Omaha," USM junior third baseman Tracy Hadley said this week. "It doesn't matter who is in our way, we'll try to stomp them. Whether it's South Alabama or the New York Yankees, we'll play our best against them."

The winner of the USM-USA game advances to play the winner of Friday's 5 p.m. game between No. 1 seed Florida State (37-20) and No. 4 seed Alabama State (38-15). The losers of Friday's games play an elimination game at 11 a.m. on Saturday and the winners follow with a contest at 5 p.m.

The four-team field in Tallahassee is one of the deepest among the 16 regionals taking place this weekend.

FSU, a perennial ACC power, finished in second place in the ACC Atlantic Division.

No. 2 seed Southern Miss (40-18) had a strong case to make for its own NCAA Regional after winning the Conference USA Tournament and staying in the top 20 in RPI for much of the season.

No. 3 seed South Alabama (40-20) finished as Sun Belt Conference regular season co-champions with Louisiana-Lafayette.

Alabama State dominated the SWAC this season, going 24-0 in conference play and winning four consecutive games to take the SWAC Tournament title.

"This is a very good regional," South Alabama coach Mark Calvi said. "Alabama State is an outstanding team, they have very good players. We're very familiar with Southern Miss -- very, very good team. They've been playing well this year. And of course, Florida State, they're always at the top. We're just excited for the opportunity to go down and play. We're going to show up and play hard."

South Alabama will send its ace to the mound Friday in Kevin Hill, who was named first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball on Wednesday. The right-hander is 8-1 with a 2.53 ERA in 15 starts this season. Hill, who has 125 strikeouts in 117 1/3 innings this season, was named the Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year for 2015 and 2016.

Berry will go Friday with sophomore left-hander Kirk McCarty, who was named first-team All-Conference USA this season. McCarty is 7-1 with a 3.38 ERA in in 16 appearances, including 15 starts.

McCarty threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings in a 3-0 win last season at South Alabama, which has struggled some against good left-handed pitching.

Berry said Wednesday that senior right-hander Cord Cockrell, who is trying to work his way back after dealing with shoulder soreness late in the season, will likely pitch at some point this weekend, but he's not sure what he'll get out of the man that served as his Friday night ace for much of the year.

Even with Cockrell's issues, Berry feels good about his pitching headed into the regional after holding opponents to a total of four runs in the last two games of the conference tournament.

"We've been playing good baseball all the way around," Berry said. "I was impressed by the way we pitched the last two games. We also pitched and played good defense in our first two games, but that was overshadowed by all the runs we scored."

Return to Tallahassee: The trip to Florida State marks the first time that USM has played in Tallahassee in 25 years. The two teams were both in the old Metro Conference and FSU leads the all-time series, 37-12.

Coast presence: There are four players from the Coast on the rosters for Friday's USM-USA Game. Pascagoula's Hadley, junior designated hitter Daniel Keating of Gulfport and senior infielder Michael Gilbert of Harrison Central all play for Southern Miss. Senior right-handed pitcher Ryne Long, an East Central Product, plays for South Alabama.

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