Come Friday, two Mississippi universities will be hosting NCAA Division I Regionals, however, it very well could have been three.
No. 7 national seed Mississippi State (40-15) and No. 12 national seed Ole Miss (41-19) used strong seasons to secure regionals in Starkville and Oxford, respectively. On the other hand, Southern Miss (37-19) squandered a chance to bring a regional and all of the perks—from home field advantage to the millions of dollars in economic impact—that come along with it to Hattiesburg.
During the Conference USA tournament, the Golden Eagles started off hot with wins over Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech. But a combination of a failure to execute and a highly questionable decision from skipper Scott Berry ultimately nixed their chances of hosting.
On Saturday, all Southern Miss had to do was beat Louisiana Tech one more time in order to not only earn a spot in the C-USA title game but, in theory, host a regional for the first time since 2017.
Instead, the Golden Eagles blew an eight-run lead in the first game versus the Bulldogs, losing 11-10. In the elimination game, Southern Miss was down 2-1 going into the ninth inning when freshman pinch-hitter Slade Wilks hit a three-run bomb to give his team a 4-2 lead. Tacking on one more run with a sac fly, Southern Miss had a three-run lead and just needed three more outs.
After Aubrey Gillentine gave up a lead-off single in the bottom of the ninth, Berry decided to make a change. Rather than bringing in another relief pitcher, he decided to put freshman shortstop Dustin Dickerson on the mound. Dickerson, who had never pitched in a collegiate game, gave up three earned runs (four total) on four hits in two-thirds of an inning, which sent the Bulldogs to the title game.
Even though Louisiana Tech eventually lost to Old Dominion in the championship, the wins over Southern Miss were enough for the NCAA to select Ruston—not Hattiesburg—as a regional site. To my knowledge, it would have been the first time ever that Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Southern Miss all hosted a regional in the same postseason.
Nevertheless, Southern Miss will still be competing in a regional. As the 2-seed, they recently arrived in Oxford and will take on 3-seed Florida State on Friday at 2 p.m. At 7 p.m., top-seeded Ole Miss will face off against 4-seed Southeast Missouri State. For the Starkville regional, first day matchups will include top-seeded Mississippi State versus 4-seed Samford at 2 p.m. before 2-seed Virginia Commonwealth plays 3-seed Campbell at 7 p.m.
All might-have-beens aside, it’s always nice to see college baseball in the Magnolia State flourishing.