Lucky Number Seven

When Corky Palmer elected to announce his retirement, his Golden Eagle baseball team was reeling. Losers of their last two ConferenceUSA series, the Eagles were on the brink of a disappointing season. A win over nationally ranked Ole Miss helped ease the spirits of a fan base in need of something to feel good about, but the season was clearly at a turning point.

When Corky stepped up to the podium on April 30th, he had a lot to say. He talked about pride in the University and the program. He talked about his retirement, but Palmer was not quitting. He was finishing.

"This season we will keep working as hard as we can to accomplish as much as we can" said Coach Palmer "We are a good way out of a NCAA regional, but we are not giving up hope."

Those were the words that stuck out to me the most from Palmer's retirement press conference.

While the skipper was not ready to give up on the season, the next two weeks brought very little to cheer about.

Series losses to Tulane and Memphis appeared to seal the Eagles fate and sadly Corky's steak of regionals appeared to be in serious jeopardy.

A funny thing happened on the way to football season, the Eagles got hot when it mattered most.

Southern Miss closed out the regular season winning four of five and a little momentum carried the Eagles into tournament play.

Day one saw Corky pick up his retirement gift. The Eagles were in a giving mood as well as they handed Rick Jones and Tulane their worst ever conference tournament loss, a 15-2 shelling. Like a one sided heavy weight prize fight, the ref stepped in and stopped this one before someone got seriously hurt.

Despite the win, many among the Black and Gold contingent felt Corky may have won his last game at the helm.

In the best outing of his career, JR Ballinger shut down top seeded ECU 5-2 as Southern stayed alive and looked to be in the driver's seat.

Another win over arch-rival Tulane sent the Eagles to the championship game.

A tournament championship was not to be as Rice got by the Eagles 8-6. There would be no automatic berth.

Questions began to surface in and around the program. Had the Eagles done enough to warrant consideration as an NCAA tournament at large selection?

Now winners of seven of their last nine, the Eagles could only sit and wait, but these Eagles were in.

Atlanta would be their proving ground once again as the never say die Eagles still had a lot to play for.

In a game that saw Conference USA pitcher of the Year, Todd McInnis, head to the showers early, the Eagles won in dramatic fashion by a church league softball quality score of 17-15 over Elon.

In the end Southern had to win two of three on the road against host Georgia Tech if they should go where no Eagle had gone before, the Super Regionals.

USM had won two road series earlier in the season, but UCF and Houston seemed like ages ago. In many respects the Eagles were a different team.

Brian Dozier was still playing short and batting in the two hole. A kid named Vollmuth had yet to make a start. Perhaps you have heard of him by now. His play in Atlanta the past few days will certainly ensure he is a name no one in Hattiesburg ever forgets.

The odds were long and in the end most Southern Miss fans were simply happy to get back into the regionals after a season that had started with promise turned pretty average by the time Palmer announced his plans to retire.

Fortunately for all involved, the Golden Eagle players and coaches were not just happy to be there. They went to Atlanta to win and win they did.

It took the Eagles ten tries to do it, but Corky Palmer's rocking chair will simply have to wait at least another weekend or two or maybe longer.

The Florida Gators are a tough draw on the road, but so were the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech. Tech had only lost one series at home before this weekend. Before the Golden Eagles showed up.

Corky is still going to hang up his cleats and line-up card once the final outs are recorded, but he is not finished just yet and neither is his team. Not be a long shot.


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