Golden Eagles soar past Penn and into NCAA Baseball Super Regional

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The men from Hattiesburg showed they are one gritty group of baseball players this weekend in Auburn, Alabama.

The University of Southern Mississippi won four straight elimination games capped by a comeback 11-7 victory over the University of Pennsylvania on Monday afternoon.

That win at Plainsman Park on the campus of Auburn University gave the Golden Eagles (45-18) the region championship and moves the team on to the Super Regional round of play.

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For the second straight season and the second time in school history, USM will host a Super Regional beginning on Saturday at Pete Taylor Park/Hill Denson Field Hattiesburg.

Their opponent will be the Tennessee Volunteers (41-19) of the SEC. Tennessee went on the road over the weekend and won a regional hosted by Clemson. Game one between the Golden Eagles and the Vols will be on Saturday at 2 p.m.

A start time for game two on Sunday has not been announced and if a third game is needed, it will be played on Monday.

The winner of the Super Regional will be one of eight teams playing in the upcoming College World Series in Omaha.

The weekend in Auburn for USM was filled with thrilling results but started with a hard to swallow loss on Friday to the no. 3 seeded team from Samford.

In that game, Southern Miss pitched their All-American ace Tanner Hall, and the junior right-hander was masterful.

Over nine innings, Hall struck out nine, walked two and gave up one earned run on eight hits.

The game was tied at 1-1 and went to an extra 10th inning, where Samford was finally able to find success with Hall out of the game.

The Bulldogs (37-25) got a solo home run and then back-to-back doubles to jump start their offense in an eventual 4-2 victory.

The nightcap of the Friday session then saw the Penn Quakers (34-16) of the Ivy League upset the no. 1 seeded host team from Auburn 6-3 in an 11-inning game.

As the 2023 season progressed, not to sound too cliché, but Southern Miss began to play its best baseball of the year.

USM was 12-8 after losing a midweek game to the University of New Orleans on March 21 and had dropped its first ever Sun Belt conference series the weekend before to Texas State on the road.

Momentum began to build as the team forged an identity as a group that would battle until the final out and showed a penchant for being able to score runs quickly up and down a deep lineup. That momentum carried the Golden Eagles to a second-place finish in the Sun Belt regular season.

With longtime coach Scott Berry announcing he’d be retiring at the end of the season, the quest to reach the College World Series became even more serious for Southern Miss as they went 4-1 in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament to capture that event in Montgomery, Alabama.

The question was how the Golden Eagles would respond after being put in the loser’s bracket against host Auburn (34-23-1) on Saturday afternoon.

One didn’t have to wait long for an answer as USM scored three runs in the top of the first and never looked back on the way to a 7-2 win that eliminated the Tigers on the Plains.

Southern Miss pitcher Billy Oldham, a transfer who started 15 games on the mound last season for the Division III National Champs from Eastern Connecticut State gave the Eagles a quality start on the mound that was needed, and reliever Will Armistead was lights out in handling the final 3.1 innings of work.

Senior first baseman and cleanup hitter Christopher Sargent provided the early cushion with his first inning three-run home run. Senior team captain Danny Lynch provided the final USM run of the day in the eighth inning with his solo home run.

Junior infielder Dustin Dickerson, a product of West Jones High, hit a solo bomb in the third and another one in the fifth inning as the Golden Eagles avoided elimination by launching balls out of Plainsman Park.

The late game on Saturday saw Penn get past Samford 5-4, which set up a Sunday afternoon rematch between Samford and Southern Miss.

A weather delay dragged things out on Sunday afternoon as the teams traded runs early in a close contest.

Samford led 4-3 after five complete innings, before Southern Miss scored four runs in the top of the sixth to claim an eventual 9-4 win.

Redshirt freshman Kros Sivley (Sumrall HS) pitched the Eagles to the win in a relief appearance. Sivley gave up six hits and one earned run in four innings.

Junior Chandler Dawson picked up the save by giving up one hit in the final two innings of action.

Center fielder Matthew Etzel, designated hitter Slade Wilks (Columbia Academy) and second baseman Nick Monistere (Northwest Rankin) all had two RBIS each in the victory over Samford which propelled the Golden Eagles into the championship round against Penn.

The finale with Penn on Sunday night didn’t start until 9 p.m., but that didn’t bother fans of USM who got to see their team use 15 hits to shell the Quackers 11-2 and force a winner-take-all matchup on Monday afternoon.

Penn led 2-1 through five innings on Sunday night before Berry’s team got two runs in the top of the sixth to go ahead 3-2.

Fans watching surely wanted the Golden Eagles to get an insurance run in their final at-bat with the game still a one-run affair at that point.

Southern Miss did just that by exploding for eight runs in the top of the ninth inning in an offensive tsunami that was highlighted by a three-run homer by Dickerson.

On the mound, the game was won by 6-foot-7 relief pitcher Justin Storm. Storm graduated from Madison Central, but his father John Storm grew up in Brookhaven, where Storm Avenue derives from their family name.

It was Storm who gave up the extra inning run to Samford on Friday night, but on Sunday he produced an outing that was similar to how he handcuffed LSU last season in a regional hosted by Southern Miss.

Storm entered the game in the fourth inning with the bases loaded and got two straight strikeouts to end the Penn scoring threat. He gave up just one hit in over five innings of play and struck out a career best 10 batters to help put his team into the final game of the regional on Monday.

You knew both teams would be forced to go deep into their bullpens on Monday and that the game would most likely be a high-scoring one and that’s exactly how it played out.

On the hill, Berry started Hall for a second time on the weekend, but the Eagles booted the ball around early as Penn scored twice in the top of the second inning.

Penn had a 5-1 lead through 4.5 innings before Southern Miss came back to tie the game with four runs in the bottom of the fifth.

The game was a roller coaster as USM led 8-5 only to watch Penn come back to cut it to 8-7 heading into the eighth.

An RBI single by Lynch and a two-run double by Carson Paetow (Vancleave HS) gave the Golden Eagles some breathing room in eighth before they closed out the 11-7 win.

Oldham got his second win of the weekend on the mound and Armistead picked up his second save of the regional in another relief appearance.

Its the second straight regional victory for Southern Miss and the third in program history. Last season Ole Miss came into Hattiesburg and won two straight games to take the Super Regional in front of huge crowds.

The lone College World Series appearance for USM came in 2009 when the Golden Eagles defeated the University of Florida in a Super Regional on the road.