Weekend Spotlight: Southern MissWeekend Spotlight
Two opening weekend series will turn back the clock to last June. In both series, a team that hosted a regional in 2017 will once again play host to the team that came into its house and won that regional. In Northern California, Stanford will begin the David Esquer era with a regionals rematch against arch-rival Cal State Fullerton, which followed up its Stanford Regional triumph with a trip to Omaha last year. That’s a marquee series between a pair of Top 25 clubs, but the most intense atmosphere in college baseball in Week One will be in Hattiesburg, Miss., where Southern Miss plays host to Mississippi State in a rematch of last year’s regional final.
The 2017 campaign was a smashing success for Southern Miss, which won 50 games and dominated Conference USA with a 25-5 mark. For a USM program with a rich history, it’s hard to overstate the significance of getting the opportunity to host in-state rival Mississippi State in a regional. This was a chance for validation on the national level, a shot at big-time bragging rights in the Magnolia State, as well as USM’s best chance to get back to Omaha for the first time since 2009.
The atmosphere at Pete Taylor Park was crackling with electricity when the Golden Eagles and Bulldogs faced off in the regional final, with the Eagles sitting in the catbird seat after winning their first two games. MSU needed to beat Southern Miss twice in a row to advance; the home crowd could smell their impending triumph.
And then Jacob Billingsley — whose longest outing of the season until that point was 5 1/3 innings — threw a complete game in MSU’s 9-1 blowout win, saving MSU’s bullpen from further taxation and setting up a winner-takes-all Game Seven. The Eagles jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the first inning and clung to a 6-4 lead after six innings, but Mississippi State fought back, taking the lead in the eighth and holding on for an 8-6 win. Emotions ran high; Southern Miss coach Scott Berry was ejected for arguing a controversial call at first base in the ninth, and in a very suspect ruling, one of the umpires claimed Berry made contact with him, resulting in a two-game suspension that will force Berry to miss the first two games of the series this weekend.
With that recent history as the backdrop, it’s safe to say the folks down in Hattiesburg are aching for another crack at Mississippi State. All three games of the series sold out well in advance; more than 4,200 fans will pack into The Pete this weekend to see the fireworks on the field.