Eagles await their fate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 31, 2005

HATTIESBURG &045; Teams across the country are waiting to hear if they’ll make it into the NCAA Tournament field.

Southern Miss shouldn’t have to worry about that. What might concern the Golden Eagles is just where they’ll be heading. They’ll find out when the NCAA releases the tournament field at 10:30 a.m. on ESPN.

Southern Miss’ 41-19 record and solid showing at the Conference USA Tournament, where the Eagles were knocked out in the semifinals, will likely get them a No. 2 seed in a regional.

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&uot;I hope we’re in a regional,&uot; Southern Miss head coach Corky Palmer said. &uot;If not, I’ll blow up the Bastille.&uot;

Ole Miss, LSU and Tulane all learned Sunday they would host regionals, ensuring each of them a spot in the field. Mississippi State’s 4-1 win over Ole Miss in the Southeastern Conference Championship game gave the Bulldogs an automatic bid.

TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said he didn’t believe there was any doubt Southern Miss would get in and probably as a No. 2 seed.

&uot;I don’t think there’s any doubt there should be four teams (from Conference USA) in the NCAAs,&uot; Schlossnagle said. &uot;I don’t think there’s any question this is a four-bid league.&uot;

Most projections have Tulane, TCU, Southern Miss and East Carolina in the tournament from Conference USA.

At the Conference USA Tournament Saturday, speculation was flying about where the Eagles will go. Oxford with Ole Miss? Baton Rouge with LSU? Miami? Tulane? It seems like any outcome is possible.

Heading to Oxford to play in Ole Miss’ regional might be the most intriguing prospect. The teams split three games this season with the Rebels taking two wins.

Southern Miss center fielder Jason Lowery would rather go to Baton Rouge.

&uot;I’d like to go to LSU,&uot; Lowery said. &uot;It’s a good place to play and I think they’re very beatable.&uot;

In any case, Palmer likes his team’s chances in a four-team regional format. The eight-team Conference USA tournament stretched Southern Miss’ pitching staff thin to the point Palmer said he wasn’t sure what he would have done if his team had won the game and had to play another.

&uot;It will suit us well. I can’t wait for a four-teamer,&uot; Palmer said. &uot;I like our bullpen and (starters Barry) Bowden and (Brad) Owen threw great games. I’m more enthused now about our pitching than I was a couple weeks ago.&uot;

That lack of depth at pitching is the only weakness on a strong Southern Miss team. The Golden Eagles lost two starting pitchers to injury before the season began and Mike Cashion, the team’s ace, went down with an injury in April.

Saturday Jon Nicholas gave a solid performance in his first start of the year for Southern Miss, giving up two earned runs in four innings. But Nicholas said it will be important for the team to stay in the winner’s bracket to conserve pitching.

&uot;If we don’t stay in the winner’s bracket, it might be a Johnny Wholestaff day,&uot; Nicholas said.