Southern Miss is back on top as Conference USA Champions.
After falling short a season ago to Rice in the C-USA Tournament, the Golden Eagles made their return trip to MGM Park a memorable one in 2018, fighting through countless lightning delays and seven ball clubs en route to hoisting the trophy.
Southern Miss punched its ticket to the championship game Sunday morning with a 6-0 win over Charlotte, who handed the Golden Eagles their first loss of the tournament the night before. After getting its revenge Sunday in an elimination game, Southern Miss left no doubt and dominated FAU, 12-3, in the title game later that afternoon.
It’s the first time since 2003 that the Golden Eagles claimed both the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles in the same season.
“It’s hard to do what we just did,” said Southern Miss head coach Scott Berry. “This doesn’t come around too often. I don’t take this for granted. But certainly this is what we work for every year when we gather in August, to get to this point.
“Last year, we had an opportunity, and we fell short to Rice. This year, we worked hard and got ourself another opportunity at it. We didn’t miss on this one.”
For video highlights and a postgame interview with Southern Miss head coach Scott Berry, click on the link: https://youtu.be/H_BkdptJlnM
In their first win Sunday against Charlotte, it was Mason Strickland who led the way on the mound. Strickland, a former South Jones and JCJC standout, tossed a complete game shutout in the Golden Eagles’ 6-0 win and was eventually named the 2018 Conference USA Tournament Most Valuable Player.
“I don’t even know the words to describe that,” Strickland said of the honor. “It’s just a blessing. I don’t have any words, I don’t know.”
For video highlights and a postgame interview with Mason Strickland, click on the link: https://youtu.be/xTkj6-intZo
Run support for Strickland came in the form of a two-RBI outing from Hunter Slater, and RBI from Matthew Guidry, Luke Reynolds, Daniel Keating and Matt Wallner.
Southern Miss doubled that run total against FAU in the championship game. Behind home runs from Gabe Montenegro, Matt Wallner and Bryant Bowen, the Golden Eagles cruised by the Owls, 12-3. Southern Miss scored the game’s first five runs, reaching a 5-0 lead in the fifth inning. Following a three spot from the Owls in the sixth, the Golden Eagles responded with two runs in the seventh and five more in the eighth to run away with it.
Wallner led the way with his 4-for-4 day at the plate and four RBI. Guidry and Keating added three hits apiece. As a team, Southern Miss collected 15 hits.
“Hitting’s contagious. That’s exactly what it was,” said Berry. “We had some really good swings on them. I think more than anything, look at our pitching staff and what they were able to do against these two clubs. That enabled our offense to relax and get going.”
Strickland picked up the win in game one, while Keller Bradford did so in relief of starter Adam Jackson in game two. Bradford went 4 1/3 innings after replacing Jackson in the third.
Southern Miss improved to 43-16 with the win. As a result, the Golden Eagles clinched Conference USA’s automatic bid for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
“It feels good,” Berry said of clinching the automatic bid. “That’s like hitting a hole in one, man. Because there is no doubt that we did it.”
On Monday, the Golden Eagles will learn where they’re headed for the NCAA Regionals, which are set to begin next week.