Patrick Magee

Nightmare series at FIU badly damages hopes of hosting regional for Southern Miss

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD 
 Scott Berry concentrates on the game against Rice, Saturday, Apr. 23, 2016.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Scott Berry concentrates on the game against Rice, Saturday, Apr. 23, 2016.

The Southern Miss baseball team's chances of hosting an NCAA regional faded in Miami Saturday afternoon.

FIU finished off a three-game Conference USA series sweep of USM with a 13-8 victory on Saturday, the final day of the regular season.

At this point, there's no guarantee that USM (36-18, 20-10) can get back in the chase to host an NCAA regional, even if it wins the C-USA tournament this week at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg. However, there is still some hope for USM if things fall right.

USM entered the weekend in first place in C-USA with a half-game lead on Rice. At the conclusion of Saturday's loss to FIU, USM was set to finish no better than third in the conference. FAU and Marshall finished ahead of the Golden Eagles and those are two teams that aren't likely to be in the discussion to host regionals. With an RPI of No. 57, it's no sure thing that second-place Marshall even gets in the postseason. FAU, which is the regular season champion, sits at No. 23 and will earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.

D1Baseball.com editor Aaron Fitt tweeted Saturday that he sees USM still in the running for an NCAA regional host site, but he acknowledged that the Eagles took a major blow with the sweep.

USM safely in

Following the loss on Saturday, USM's RPI dropped to No. 21. The Golden Eagles appear to be safely in the postseason, but a couple of wins in the C-USA tournament would go a long way to restoring the team's confidence.

USM lost a pair of road conference series to UAB and FAU earlier in the season, but managed to avoid the sweep. The Eagles had the ball bounce their way on many occasions in league play, but things went horribly awry at FIU.

USM wasn't the only C-USA team to struggle on the road this weekend. Rice stumbled to lose its series at Louisiana Tech.

USM will be a No. 3 seed in the C-USA tournament, will play Old Dominion at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at Pete Taylor Park.

While the Golden Eagles will have the home field advantage this week, that's done little for them in the past. Five of the last seven C-USA tournaments have taken place in Mississippi, either in Pearl or in Hattiesburg, and the Golden Eagles haven't won one of those events.

The only two times that USM has won the conference tournament were both on the road - 2003 at Tulane and 2010 at Houston.

A look ahead

The pitching rotation will be the biggest question mark for USM headed into the tournament. None of the three starters made it out of the fourth inning at FIU.

Senior ace Cord Cockrell, who had been dealing with a sore shoulder, returned to pitch Thursday's game, but only threw three scoreless innings in a 6-5 extra-inning loss. It's unclear how long Cockrell (7-1, 3.39) will last if he makes the start on Wednesday.

It's a safe bet that sophomore lefty Kirk McCarty (6-1, 3.27) will pitch on Thursday, but he will have to rebound from a bumpy performance on Friday when he allowed four runs on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings to take the loss. Considering McCarty had to deal with a significant weather delay during the start, it's not that fair to judge him for the rough outing.

Freshman right-hander Walker Powell (4-3, 3.50) also lasted only 3 2/3 innings, giving up seven runs, three earned, on six hits in Saturday's loss.

This USM team has proven resilient for much of the season, bouncing back from each setback. We'll find out this week how they can rebound after bottoming out in the regular season-ending series.

Contact Patrick Magee at pmagee@sunherald.com and follow him on Twitter at Patrick_Magee and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MageeonSports.

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