HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - While the suspense quotient was considerably lowered from a year ago, the roar was every bit as loud and sustained following Monday's formal announcement of the particulars of this week's NCAA Regional at the University of Southern Mississippi.
The Golden Eagles learned Sunday night that they would be hosting a regional for only the second time in the program's history, a reward for a record-setting 48-14 season that included an outright regular-season Conference USA championship.
Monday, coaches and players said they had a feeling who might be headed to Pete Taylor Park even before Mississippi State University, University of South Alabama and University of Chicago-Illinois were revealed during the annual selection show televised Monday morning.
"A couple of these teams we almost suspected because it made sense geographically," Southern Miss pitcher Kirk McCarty said. "Two teams we've already seen, Mississippi State and South Alabama, but we've got to get past Illinois-Chicago first.
"Right now, we don't know that much about them, so we've got to do our research and get as much information as we can because that's the most important game right now."
The regional will start Friday, with the top-seeded Golden Eagles taking on the fourth-seeded Flames (39-15), the champions of the Horizon League. It will be the first meeting between the two schools.
Second-seeded Mississippi State (36-24) will meet third-seeded South Alabama (39-19), the champion of the Sun Belt Conference tournament champions.
USM is 3-0 against the regional competition, having beaten MSU 7-5 at Trustmark Park in Pearl and sweeping a home-and-home series with the Jaguars.
While game times have not been released, Coach Scott Berry said he would prefer to play the first game of the day.
"Personally, I want to play the earlier games," Berry said. "I just feel like it gives us a better chance to recover, win or lose. We have a lot of rain forecast, so I certainly don't want to be hung in a late game, starting to 9 o'clock at night.
"I don't want it to affect our crowd, though some may say it will, and if so, I apologize, but I'm trying to do the best for our club to win, and I feel like (fans) will be out there to support us, for sure."
The Golden Eagles were a big draw on the Gulf Coast last week during the Conference USA baseball tournament, helping pull a record-5,216 for the title game with Rice University.
First baseman Dylan Burdeaux said he was looking forward to playing at home yet again.
"When I walked off the field the last time, I didn't feel like it was going to be my last time, though you had to assume that maybe it was at the time," Burdeaux said of Southern Miss' final, regular-season home game with University of Alabama-Birmingham on Sept. 14.
"It's definitely an awesome feeling that we are going to get to be able to play in front our fans one more time this weekend, and are definitely ready for it. I'm already excited and think this whole team is excited about getting to play one more weekend at The Pete."