Winston, USM face South Alabama in Regional today

Published 11:58 pm Thursday, June 2, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Former Trinity Episcopal pitcher Jake Winston wasn’t told he would enter the University of Southern Mississippi’s opening game of the Conference USA tournament in the second inning, but he had a hunch he should be loose.

Winston’s teammate Cord Cockrell started on the mound for the Golden Eagles, but he has been battling chronic shoulder soreness. Winston said his job over the past couple of weeks has been to pick up his fellow senior if he shows signs of inconsistency.

“(Cockrell) felt good in the first inning, his velocity was up a little bit,” Winston said. “Then it started to dip in the second inning. I don’t know if he got a little tired, but you could tell he wasn’t feeling himself.”

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Winston stepped on the mound with two out in the second inning in a 5-4 deficit and struck out the first batter he faced.

“We were going to let Cord go as long as he could,” Winston said. “It’s very unfortunate how he’s feeling right now, but he’s a bulldog for us.”

Winston earned the win in the C-USA opener after the Southern Miss offense exploded for 12 runs over the 4.0 innings he pitched. The Golden Eagles run-ruled Old Dominion 17-5 in seven innings. Winston allowed one hit and no runs.

Winston’s win was the start of a 4-0 run for the Golden Eagles through the Conference USA tournament. Southern Miss beat Rice in the championship game to win the conference for the first time since 2010.

Winston said sweeping the tournament is a momentum builder for Southern Miss baseball, which boarded a bus to Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday for its first game in the Regional round as a No. 2 seed.

“It’s definitely one of the top memories I have from playing at Southern Miss,” Winston said. “That was the first time we won the tournament since I’d been here.”

Winston said his experience at the Golden Eagles’ selection show watch party at Mugshots Bar and Grill in Hattiesburg was strange, since Southern Miss was announced quickly, in the first Regional bracket with host school Florida State University.

“It was a weird situation because you read all these projections and every place has you going somewhere different,” Winston said. “Seeing our name called so early, I didn’t expect that. To see us going to Tallahassee, I definitely didn’t expect that.”

Southern Miss is one of four C-USA teams to be seeded in the 2016 NCAA baseball Regional round. Rice, Louisiana Tech and Florida Atlantic were also seeded.

A C-USA team has reached the Super Regional rounds 11 times in the last 16 years and six teams have advanced to the College World Series.

“Conference USA definitely had a great year, especially with four from the league making it into the tournament,” Winston said.

Southern Miss was swept by Florida International University in the final series of the regular season, which damaged the Golden Eagles’ chances of hosting a Regional round in Hattiesburg.

Still, Southern Miss did almost all it possibly could to earn back a host spot by going undefeated in the C-USA tournament and outscoring opponents by a 32-12 margin.

Winston said he and his teammates thought there would be a solid chance that Southern Miss could slip into the top-16 teams on Memorial Day, but the squad is focused on advancing as a No. 2 seed.

“We were pretty bummed out to not get a host spot,” Winston said. “We thought we had done enough to get to host, but it didn’t go our way. We can’t harp on that, because we have to move forward.”

Southern Miss faces South Alabama at 11 a.m. today at FSU’s Dick Howser Stadium. The regional is a double-elimination format. Selection of eight Super Regional hosts will be made June 6 at approximately 11 p.m.