Christopher Sargent fully intended to be back on the field at Pete Taylor Park Sunday to try to win the Conference USA tournament championship.
But 7-6 and 11-2 losses to UTSA Friday and Saturday kept that from happening. Even still, the Southern Miss first baseman doesn’t plan to miss the title game.
“We’ll probably come here and watch the championship,” he said. “You know, kinda let it hurt a little bit.”
After that, the Golden Eagles (43-16) will turn their attention toward the NCAA Tournament. Scott Berry’s team is all but assured of advancing to their sixth straight Regional. The only question is whether it will host one or hit the road as a No. 2 seed. The Regional hosts will be revealed Sunday, while the full field will be unveiled at 11 a.m. Monday.
Southern Miss players and coaches are confident the work they’ve done over the course of the full 2022 season is enough to warrant a host bid. If that happens, it will be just the third time in program history and the second time in the past five seasons.
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“We didn’t go two-and-Q, that’s the main thing,” said Berry, the Golden Eagles’ all-time winningest coach who was named C-USA Coach of the Year earlier this week. “We were 43-16, regular-season champs. That’s the marathon. That’s the body of work that’s really most important. We finished first in the fifth-best RPI league. We just didn’t have a good tournament.”
In the immediate aftermath of its elimination Saturday, Southern Miss dropped to No. 20 in the RPI rankings. The team came into the week ranked 12th in the USA TODAY Coaches’ Poll. Before Saturday’s game, D1 Baseball and Baseball America each projected Hattiesburg as a Regional host site.
Shortstop Dustin Dickerson said Saturday the team was hearing rumblings it unofficially clinched a host bid after defeating FAU Friday. Berry isn’t letting himself get too comfortable just yet.
“It’s not that we had a bad tournament,” he said. “We won two games (at the tournament). Prior to that, we were in a position to host. I hope the (selection) committee takes into consideration that anybody can have a bad (tournament). I think the body of work should be looked at (closely). But I’m not in that room making those decisions.”
Regardless of destination, Southern Miss’ vaunted pitching staff is in an ideal position. Ace Tanner Hall last threw Wednesday. Hurston Waldrep, the team’s other first-team all-conference selection, pitched Friday, while the other weekend starter (Hunter Riggins) also last appeared on Friday. Each NCAA Regional begins June 3.
“I think we’re back to the beginning again in (what will be a four-team tournament),” Berry said. “We’ll be OK there.”
Southern Miss, which won a school-record 15 games in late March and April, has gone 10-8 since then. In Sargent’s mind, the biggest issue has been the team’s inability to fire on all cylinders simultaneously. But he’s hopeful that will change.
“Once we click, man, we can be dangerous,” he said. “We’re 43-16. We’ve had a great year. If it’s here or somewhere else, this team will give everything it has.”
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @munzly.
This article originally appeared on Hattiesburg American: Has Southern Miss done enough to host an NCAA Regional?