Saturday’s rain out certainly helped but it’s hard to imagine Southern Miss’ pitching staff in better shape heading into the Hattiesburg Regional championship.
USM had to go to its bullpen a bit earlier than it wanted Friday but still strung together 4 2/3 innings of one-run ball in the 8-7 win against Illinois-Chicago.
All the Golden Eagle relievers did Sunday was put together another 3 1/3 scoreless frames in the 8-3 victory over South Alabama.
While Hayden Roberts was a bit of a hero Friday with “The Flip,” Trent Driver, Stevie Powers and Nick Sandlin each did their part, allowing just one hit and one walk with four strikeouts in three scoreless frames.
USA (40-20) did make USM’s pen work a bit more Sunday, earning four hits and three walks, but the Jaguars never pushed a run across the plate against the Golden Eagle relievers.
“At this point we’re certainly in better shape than anybody else who’s continuing to play,” USM coach Scott Berry said.
Outside of USM’s two starters, Kirk McCarty and Taylor Braley, the Golden Eagles (50-14) should be full strength Monday for two potential games.
East Central’s Konnor Pilkington entered the day with 98 strikeouts and finished with 107. His nine strikeouts in MSU’s 5-4 win over UIC made him the 19th Bulldog in program history to eclipse 100 whiffs in a season.
“You know, you’ve got a game plan out there and you’ve got to execute a few pitches, keep the ball in the strike zone and locate a fastball in and out,” Pilkington said. “I was throwing a curve ball where I wanted to anytime in the game and I was mainly keeping the hitters off balance.”
Pilkington’s nine-strikeout performance was his third-highest mark of the season behind two 13-strikeout games against South Alabama and Arkansas in March.
The 0-2 performance in Hattiesburg wasn’t what UIC had hoped for. The Flames boasted one of the nation’s top ERAs and won the Horizon League to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Mike Dee needed a few moments to gather his thoughts before addressing the media post-game after his team was eliminated from its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008.
“I wish you guys would have to be in this position one time to understand what this feels like,” he said. “Especially I’m heartbroken for our players, I really am. They expected so many things this entire year, to come that close against 2 nationally ranked teams, and have an opportunity the last 2 innings of both games to take the lead and win and just come up a little bit short. It’s really hard to swallow.
“I’m disappointed for them, certainly not disappointed in them.”
The Flames’ final out in both games came with the bases loaded.
Hard to get Hardy out
D’Iberville’s Dylan Hardy has been one of the tournament’s best hitters. The South Alabama leadoff hitter reached base four times Sunday against USM. In addition to three singles he also reached on an error to finish 3-for-5 with an RBI and run scored.
USA coach Mark Calvi has credited Hardy multiple times this weekend by saying he’s a “self-made” player.
Hardy entered Sunday night’s game against MSU leading USA with a .370 batting average to go along with a .507 slugging percentage and .429 on-base percentage.