Southern Miss mounts intense rally to take down Rice in C-USA tourney
If there’s an NCAA baseball regional that has the feel of a wide open field, it may be the one that’s taking place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this weekend.
The top two seeds have had a bumpy close to the season. No. 1 LSU (37-24) is 8-8 in the month of May and No. 2 Arizona State (37-17) is 7-10 over the last 17 games.
Southern Miss (38-19) also struggled late in the regular season with three consecutive conference series defeats to close out the regular season, but the Golden Eagles put together a run of four consecutive wins to take the Conference USA tournament.
Stony Brook (31-21) is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015 after winning the America East tournament. The Seawolves will be the biggest underdog in the field, but they’ve proven they can’t be taken for granted after reaching the College World Series in 2012.
Here’s a look at all four teams competing this week at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium:
No. 1 LSU
How they got here: With a No. 16 RPI, there was no way the NCAA selection committee would deny LSU the right to host a regional after missing out a year ago. The Tigers have the best fan base in the nation and they will bring large crowds every night.
While LSU’s staff ERA of 4.73 won’t inspire dread in opponents, the Tigers showed they have enough pitching depth after receiving some solid outings last week in the SEC Tournament.
Best bat: In a lineup that features all-or-nothing sluggers like Antoine Duplantis and Daniel Cabrera, junior shortstop Josh Smith will be one of the toughest outs in the regional. He is hitting .343 with eight homers and 38 RBIs.
Top arm: The Tigers don’t feature one clear ace, but the return of right-hander Cole Henry in the SEC tournament served as a boost. The SEC All-Freshman performer is 4-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 12 games, including nine starts.
Where they stand: The Tigers showed some signs of life in the SEC tournament after having a rough close to the regular season, but this is far from one of Paul Mainieri’s more dominant squads. The Tigers do have a tremendous home field advantage and that may be all they need to advance to the next round.
No. 2 Arizona State
How they got here: The Sun Devils were the hottest team in the nation early on, rolling to an incredible 25-1 record to begin the season. Since that point, they are 12-16.
The Sun Devils lead the nation in homers with a total of 92 and have the best batting average in the regional at .307. Junior first baseman Spencer Torkelson and junior center fielder Hunter Bishop give ASU likely the best power-hitting duo in the nation. Torkelson is hitting .348 with 21 homers and 60 RBIs. Bishop checks in at .347 with 22 home runs and 61 RBIs.
Best bat: Torkelson or Bishop, pick your poison. Torkelson bats from the right side and Bishop swings from the other box.
Top arm: He took some lumps in conference play, but junior right-hander Alec Marsh is ASU’s Friday night guy with a 9-3 record and a 3.17 ERA.
Where they stand: If the Sun Devils are to advance to the Super Regional, they will have to slug their way out of Baton Rouge. With Torkelson, Bishop and Trevor Hauer, they’re capable of doing that.
No. 3 Southern Miss
How they got here: USM entered the Conference USA tournament with their postseason future in some doubt, but they responded by playing their best baseball of the season in a four-game sweep through the field.
USM’s pitching staff held opponents scoreless over the final 19 innings of the C-USA tournament with freshman right-hander Gabe Shepard taking a starring turn with 7 1/3 innings in a no-hit win over Rice. He was throwing 93-96 miles per hour and has a chance to be the starter against ASU on Friday.
USM has its deepest pitching staff in years and there’s enough pop in the lineup to make a run in the postseason. Junior right fielder Matt Wallner is regarded as a strong MLB prospect and the left-handed hitting Minnesotan has a .324 batting average with 21 home runs and 55 RBIs.
Best bat: Wallner holds USM’s career record for homers with 56.
Top arm: Redshirt junior right-hander Walker Powell put together an all-conference season with a 6-2 record and a 2.78 ERA, but Shepard is the best pitcher on the staff at the moment. He is 2-0 with a 2.16 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 25 innings.
Where they stand: Fresh off a dominant run through the C-USA tournament, no team in the regional has more momentum than the Golden Eagles. A decade after the program’s only run to the College World Series, USM is hoping for similar magic.
No. 4 Stony Brook
How they got here: Stony Brook has built a strong reputation in the northeast region, but it will be difficult to make it out of Baton Rouge. The Seawolves won all three games last week in the America East Tournament.
Best bat: Junior outfielder Michael Wilson is hitting .345 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs.
Top arm: Senior right-hander Bret Clarke is 8-0 with a 3.76 ERA in 13 games.
Where they stand: The Seawolves have some strange history with both LSU and Southern Miss:
▪ Stony Brook stunned LSU on its home field in 2012 to clinch a spot in the College World Series, one of the biggest postseason upsets in the history of the NCAA baseball tournament.
▪ Stony Brook and USM have yet to play each other in baseball, but they’ve had two series canceled due to odd circumstances. A series was scheduled for 2014 in Hattiesburg, but heavy snow in the northeast kept the Seawolves from making the trip from Long Island. Stony Brook was finally supposed to travel to USM in 2018, but that series was canceled when Stony Brook school officials realized that an executive order by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo over Mississippi’s “religious freedom” bill prevented them from traveling to the state. The bill allows government and businesses to deny services to same-sex couples.
Game 1 — No. 3 Southern Miss vs. No. 2 Arizona State, noon
Game 2 — No. 4 Stony Brook vs. No. 1 LSU, 6 p.m.
Game 3 — Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, noon
Game 4 — Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 6 p.m.
Game 5 — Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 2 p.m.
Game 6 — Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 8 p.m.
Game 7 — Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6, 3 p.m. (if necessary)
Any available all-session booklets will go on sale to the general public at 8 a.m. on Thursday. Remaining individual-session tickets go on sale to the general public at 8 a.m. on Friday. Game 7 tickets will not go on sale unless necessary after the end of Game 6. Individual session tickets are $10. For more information, go to LSUTix.com.
All games will be shown on the ESPN family of networks and live streams will be available on the ESPN app with your cable account information.