Eagles Heading to Atlanta

Corky Palmer's retirement party will have to wait. Although the Golden Eagles came up short of a Conference USA baseball tournament title on their home field, they did enough to continue a streak and earn a 7th consecutive birth in the NCAA tournament and continue their head coaches' career.

After a regular season that fell short of pre-season expectations, USM came out determined in the tournament to not go down without a fight. After a loss to Rice on Sunday in the Championship game, they breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing the announcement that they would be heading to Atlanta, Georgia to compete in the Georgia Tech regional.

The Road to a Super Regional is going to be a difficult one. In a double elimination format in a short weekend; depth in pitching, strong defense, and timely hitting are a must to survive. Here is a quick look at the teams the Golden Eagles will be competing against, and what they must to do make it out of Atlanta.

The number one seed and the host team is the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (35-17-1). They are hosting a regional for a reason; this is a solid team with good baseball tradition. In fact, Georgia Tech is making its 23rd appearance in the NCAA tournament in the past 25 years.

The Yellow Jackets have one of the better pitching staffs in the nation led by sophomore Deck McGuire, a finalist for the 2009 pitcher of the year award. There are no holes in this line-up either. Senior RF Luke Murton (.376-17-54-4), junior 1B Tony Plagman (.347-15-63-4) and freshman 3B Matt Skole (.303-15-50-2) are powering the Jacket offense in 2009. Coach Danny Hall is no stranger to the NCAA's either, having guiding the Yellow Jackets to 13 NCAA appearances, and College World Series births in 1994, 2002 and 2006.

They have stumbled a bit as of late losing three of four to end the regular season, and then seeing a disappointing early exit in the ACC tournament. However, there is no mistaking this is one of the top college baseball programs in the country with expectations of making another trip back to Omaha.

The first opponent for Southern Miss is the number 2 seeded Elon Phoenix. The Phoenix are making their 4th NCAA appearance after only playing Division 1 baseball for 10 years. A small school from the Southern Conference, Elon is quickly making a national name for itself in baseball. They have won their conference three of the past four years. This year with a gaudy record of 40-16, they are currently ranked 22nd in the latest Baseball America polls. Elon finished second to Georgia Southern in the championship game of the SoCon Tournament.

For the Eagles to win, they will have to be careful with a very dangerous line up that slammed 131 home runs this year. They are led by junior catcher Mike Melillo (.343), junior infielder Chase Austin (.369), and team captain outfielder Pat Irvine (.414). They spread the wealth too as seven players have ten or more home runs on the roster. Their starting pitching was a tough group as well, going 26-7 collectively as a group posting a 5.95 ERA.

Fourth seeded Georgia State doesn't have to travel far to get to the Atlanta regional, located just two miles from Georgia Tech's Russ Chandler stadium. The Panthers, winners of the Colonial Athletic Association, are making their first ever appearance in the NCAA's. The Panthers are led by Junior Bradley Logan, who earned CAA Most Outstanding Player honors at last week's CAA Championship after hitting four home runs in four games. After going 39-20, they have won more games than any GSU team in school history.

For Southern Miss to make it out of Atlanta, they will have to have their starting pitching continue to step up and go deep into games. Matching up with Elon in game one could call for an offensive shootout. Elon's pitching staff has a 6.01 ERA overall and gave up a lot of runs. An early win is vital in a double elimination tournament.

Southern Miss gave fans a glimpse of what they can be when hitting on all cylinders, and is certainly capable of winning this regional. Former coach Hill Denson once told me that "the tournaments are all about the teams that get hot. Whoever can do that can win any tournament." Let's hope the Eagles can continue to hold off those retirement plans for their head coach for another week.

NCAA ATLANTA REGIONAL SCHEDULE:

Friday, May 29:

Game 2: No. 2 Elon vs. No. 3 Southern Miss, 3 p.m.

Game 1: No. 4 GEORGIA STATE vs. No. 1 Georgia Tech, 7 p.m.

Saturday, May 30:

Game 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 3 p.m.

Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2

Sunday, May 31:

Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 3 p.m.

Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5

Monday, June 1 (IF NECESSARY):

Game 7: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner 5, 7 p.m.


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