The University of Sobuthern Mississippi baseball team will indeed be traveling to a Southeastern Conference campus when the Golden Eagles embark on NCAA Regional play this weekend.
It’s just not the SEC site that many had expected.
The Golden Eagles (43-16) were slotted as the No. 2 seed in the four-team Fayetteville Regional, hosted by the top-seeded University of Arkansas (39-18) at Baum Stadium..
Many prognosticators had expected the Golden Eagles to be sent to Oxford for the third time in USM’s postseason history after the University of Mississippi was selected as a regional site Sunday.
Instead, the selection committee slotted USM further west to visit Fayetteville, Ark., for the first time since 1994.
“I kind of had the feeling we were going to end up in Oxford, so didn’t really expect Arkansas,” USM outfielder Matt Wallner said after Monday’s field was announced. “But, I’ve heard that the ball flies a little bit there, so that’s exciting for us. I’m looking forward to that.”
USM will open play against third-seeded Dallas Baptist University (40-19) at 7p.m. Friday. The Razorbacks will take on fourth-seeded Oral Roberts University (38-18) at 2 p.m. Friday.
After winning the Conference USA Baseball Championship in Biloxi this past weekend, USM knew it would be among the 64 teams invited to play in the NCAA postseason.
The draw the Golden Eagles received is challenging.
Arkansas, which ranked third in the Ratings Percentage Index during the regular season, was ranked the fifth overall national seed. The Razorbacks, who went 30-3 at home this season, tied for the SEC West Division title and reached the semifinals of last weekend’s SEC tournament.
Dallas Baptist, which ranked 36th in the RPI, finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and reached the finals of MVC tournament. The Patriots, who are playing in a NCAA Regional for a fifth consecutive season, received one of the last four at-large bids from the selection committee.
ORU, which ranked 131st in the RPI, won the Summit League’s regular-season and tournament titles.
“Honestly, it didn’t matter where we were going because we’re after the same goal wherever we went,” USM shortstop LeeMarcus Boyd said. “But now, knowing where we’re going, we feel good about it and we’re ready to take on the task ahead of us.”
Sophomore right-hander Walker Powell grew up in Fayetteville and attended many games at Baum Stadium.
“It’s like any other SEC school,” Powell said. “It’s got a big, big atmosphere, ut I don’t think it’s going to faze us because we’re used to playing in some pretty big atmospheres, playing Ole Miss and Mississippi State, we know what to expect, as well as playing at our own place. We put out a pretty good atmosphere.
“It’s going to be a challenge, definitely, with that, but we have the caliber of team to be mature and step up.”
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