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Better Know a Regional: Southern Miss

They got to host for a reason. Several, actually.

If LSU is going to advance out of this regional, they are going to have to beat the host, probably twice. It’s always tough to beat any national seed, but it is especially difficult to do it on their home turf. The advantages are piled up in USM’s favor, but… doesn’t mean that LSU is going into this weekend scared. This is the time of year the Tigers live for.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Record 43-16 (23-7, 1st in C-USA)

RPI 20

ISR 17

RS/RA 381/221

It’s always difficult to evaluate teams from a smaller conference because you never know what’s a schedule illusion and what isn’t. In USM’s case, it’s not. The Golden Eagles have a non-conference RPI of 8th, which speaks to their ability to schedule tough and win. OK, if you want to nitpick, USM is 0-3 against the top 25 of the RPI, getting swept by Dallas Baptist, but everyone is entitled to a poor weekend.

What is more revealing is looking at some of those common opponents USM shares with LSU. USM took two of three from La Tech, to whom LSU lost twice in two meetings. USM beat Ole Miss and Ole Miss swept the Tigers. The teams share wins over common opponents like Mississippi St, Tulane, ULL, and New Orleans. I know none of you were taking a traditional power like USM lightly, but if you were so inclined… stop.

Would Their Mascot Beat Mike in a Fight?

Again, we have to concede air superiority. We’re talking about two apex predators, neither with any real predators, rulers of their respective domains. Luckily, we have video, which I will not imbed, but you can check it out if you’re curious.

Yup. That’s a tiger climbing the tree and getting to the eagle’s nest. And not even an adult tiger. Got to score this one for Mike as well. Sorry, eagles.

Offense

You know, for a team with the reputation as an amazing defensive squad (which is well-earned as we will see), people really do not pay attention to how well they hit. USM scored 381 runs and posted a slash line of 283/385/466 for an OPS 851. Considering the staff allows an OPS of 624, they are besting their opponents by over 200 points which… wow.

The secret to the offense is the long ball. The Golden Eagles hit 77 homers as a team, and five players hit at least 10 home runs. Leading the pack is 1B Christopher Sargent with 20 and a 252/303/533 line. But don’t think the rest of the team is as all-or-nothing as he is. LF Reece Ewing hit 10 homers and a 287/453/528 line while 2B Will McGillis provides more power at 275/402/570 and 15 homers.

Pitching

You hear that USM has a team ERA of 3.16 and three great starters, but it doesn’t quite register until you see it lined up. Check out this staff:

Tanner Hall, 8-2, 2.69 ERA, 93.2 IP, 130/11 K/BB

Hunter Riggins, 8-4, 2.75 ERA, 88.1 IP, 79/20 K/BB

Hurston Waldrep, 6-1. 2.99 ERA, 78.1 IP, 117/27 K/BB

130 to 11. Can we talk about that K/BB ratio for just a second because oh my God. Striking out close to 1.5 batters every inning would be scary enough, but to couple that kind of ability to make batters swing and miss with that kind of pinpoint control? That doesn’t even seem fair.

Oh, and if you get through that staff, you then have to contend with a bullpen anchored by Landon Harper, who notched 11 saves with a 2.27 ERA and a 45/7 K/BB ratio. And its not like he’s the only great arm back there.

They can bring it. And if LSU is going to advance, they need to figure out how to hit these arms.

Tiger Bait?

Sure, LSU has a better offense, but not by leaps and bounds. And USM’s rotation is far superior. It is deep and talented. It is also back up by an exceptional bullpen. At the end of the day, there is a reason why the Golden Eagles earned the national seed and LSU didn’t. They look like the more complete team.

Upsets can happen. But on paper, USM has a far greater advantage pitching than LSU does at the plate, plus they get the raucous home crowd behind them. It’s going to take LSU’s best baseball to win this thing, and that consistency simply hasn’t been there this season. Now is the time.