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Southern Miss, Arizona State clash for first time in regional

Southern Miss and Arizona State have never played each other in baseball, but took a similar road to make their first meeting happen.

Arizona State won its first 21 games this season and 25 of its first 26, then went 12-16 the rest of the way. Southern Miss was cruising toward a Conference USA regular-season championship before losing its last three series.

Their paths converge Friday at noon, when they play each other at noon in the opening game of the NCAA Tournament’s Baton Rouge Regional. Both squads are looking for a bit of redemption while embracing the fresh start the postseason provides.

“We’re just as dangerous as any of those teams,” Arizona State outfielder Carter Aldrete told ArizonaSports.com. “Maybe a few things didn’t go our way, and we’re not hosting (a regional). But I still think we’re a dangerous team in the playoffs. No one is excited to play us.”

Although both teams had their struggles in the second half of the season, they’re both more than capable of getting hot and winning this regional.

Arizona State (37-17) leads the country with 92 home runs. Junior outfielder Hunter Bishop has hit 22 and teammate Spencer Torkelson has 21.

Southern Miss (38-19) shook off its late slide to win four straight games at the Conference USA Tournament and claim the league’s automatic bid.

“There’s been a change in attitude and we just have to keep going through the regional,” Southern Miss outfielder Matt Wallner told the Biloxi Sun-Herald. “It’s a new week. The conference tournament is behind us now. We just have to go forth using that same momentum. We can’t look past Arizona State or anyone in the regional.”

One of Southern Miss’ secret weapons might be pitcher Gabe Shepard. The freshman right-hander will get the start against Arizona State after throwing 7 1/3 no-hit innings in the C-USA Tournament against Rice.

Shepard has only appeared in 10 games this season, but the last two have been great. In addition to last week’s outing, he threw five shutout innings against Troy on May 14. He has not allowed a run in 13 1/3 innings over his last three outings overall.

He said he wasn’t intimidated by Arizona State’s powerful lineup.

“You face quality batters all the time,” Shepard told the Sun-Herald. “Baseball has a lot of numbers in it and there are good numbers for both teams. They have incredible hitters, but as a pitcher you have to go out there with a mindset that nobody can beat you. You can’t be worried that his dude has 20 home runs, he might hit one out on me. You’ve got to say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna beat this kid.’ Me and you in the box. If he does it, he does it. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. That’s the way I look at it.”

Baton Rouge Regional

Double elimination; x-if necessary

Friday

Game 1 – Southern Miss vs. Arizona St., Noon

Game 2 – Stony Brook at LSU, 6 p.m.

Saturday

Game 3 – Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, Noon

Game 4 – Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 6 p.m.

Sunday

Game 5 – Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser, 2 p.m.

Game 6 – Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 8 p.m.

Monday

x-Game 7 – Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 2 p.m.