Conference USA title decided in Hattiesburg this weekend

From Daily Journal, wire reports

HATTIESBURG – The Conference USA regular-season champion will be crowned here this weekend when Southern Miss battles East Carolina in a three-game conference series that begins tonight. The host Golden Eagles will need a sweep to share in the league title.

East Carolina (45-8, 23-4 Conference USA) is ranked No. 4 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball. The Pirates are the highest-ranked opponent to visit Hattiesburg this season. Ole Miss was ranked as high as fifth nationally when it lost here on March 23.

Southern Miss (39-13, 20-7 Conference USA) is ranked No. 16 in the ESPN coaches' poll and is 26th in the Collegiate Baseball poll.

Action tonight and Friday begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday's game starts at 1 p.m.

East Carolina needs just one win to be crowned the outright champion. If Southern Miss can sweep, things get complicated:

n If Southern Miss sweeps the series and Tulane sweeps its series at Houston, then East Carolina, Southern Miss and Tulane would be conference co-champions.

n If Southern Miss sweeps, and Tulane loses just one game, then East Carolina and Southern Miss would be co-champions.

Southern Miss leads the young series with ECU by a 4-3 margin. The Gokden Eagles lost 2 of 3 in Greenville, N.C., last season but beat the Pirates in the semifinals of the Conference USA tournament in New Orleans.

The Golden Eagles enter the weekend on an six-game overall winning streak and an eight-game winning streak in the conference dating back to the second game of the UAB series. The Golden Eagles swept Louisville at home two weeks ago and swept Charlotte in Charlotte, N.C., this past weekend. Their game with New Orleans on Tuesday night was rained out.

Junior second baseman Jarrett Hoffpauir and junior shortstop Matt Shepherd lead Southern Miss in offense with .392 batting averages. Hoffpauir has seven home runs and 70 RBIs; Shepherd has two home runs and 36 RBIs. Ryan Frith is hitting .330 with 13 doubles, 19 home runs and 54 RBIs.

East Carolina enters the weekend after winning two-of-three in Kinston, N.C., against TCU last weekend. The Pirates have won eight of their last 10 games and 26-of-28, dating back to March 27 at Memphis.

Senior outfielder Ryan Jones leads the Pirates with a .406 batting average, including 18 home runs and a team-high 63 RBIs.

Saturday's game will mark not only the series finale but also the final regular season game for both teams and the final home game for six Southern Miss seniors who will be honored prior to the game. The seniors are Ray Antonelli (LHP), Anthony DeWitt (RHP), Ryan Frith (OF), Adam Smith (RHP), Austin Tubb (RHP) and Carlos Velasquez (OF).

Game broadcasts can be heard by logging onto www.SouthernMiss.com.

East Carolina at Southern Miss

Today

ECU junior RHP Greg Bunn (7-0, 3.20) vs. USM freshman RHP Patrick Ezell (5-1, 3.91).

Friday

ECU junior LHP Brody Taylor (7-0, 4.57) vs. USM senior RHP Anthony DeWitt (9-2, 4.24)

Saturday

ECU freshman RHP Shane Matthews (6-1, 3.56) vs. USM junior RHP Cliff Russum (6-2, 3.69) or freshman RHP Mike Cashion (2-2, 3.15)

Team Avg. Opp. Avg. ERA Opp. ERA

Southern Miss .322 .275 4.59 5.xx

East Carolina .322 .243 3.79 5.xx