Southern Miss faces storied program in top-seeded Texas

OMAHA, Neb. — Southern Miss’ remarkable run the last three weeks comes full circle on Sunday in the opening round of the 2009 College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium.

With wins in the Atlanta Regional and the Gainesville Super Regional in their back pocket, the Golden Eagles open play on the biggest stage college baseball has to offer — against one of the top programs.

Southern Miss, 40-24 and the lowest seed in the World Series, will tackle No. 1 seed Texas with first pitch set for 6 p.m. CDT.

“Texas is a storied baseball program,” Southern Miss coach Corky Palmer said. “Year in and year out, they are one of the best programs in the country and that’s the case this year.

“People have asked how we will react? I don’t know and we will see because this is a big stage for our program.”

When it comes to Omaha, no team has more trips (33) than the Longhorns and no coach has more Division I wins that Augie Garrido (1.675).

Texas, however, is making its first World Series appearance since 2005 and has won 11 of the last 13 games.

To downplay his team’s favorite role, Garrido pointed back to last season when No. 4 seed Fresno State won the World Series.

Southern Miss enters this year with a No. 3 seed.

“You see teams grow inning to inning,” Garrido said. “By the time Fresno State was finished last year they’d gone from being normal people to immortals.”

On the mound, the Longhorns (46-14-1) have three top-notch starters in Chance Ruffin (10-2, 3.03 ERA), Cole Green (5-3, 3.02) and Taylor Jungmann (8-3, 2.45).

The Longhorns, as a team, finished second to Arizona State in team ERA at 2.06 and feature the top closer in the nation in Austin Wood, 5-1 record. 15 saves and a 2.02 ERA.

Ironically, all three starting pitchers will play in the Cape Cod League later this month for former Gulf Coast Community College coach Cooper Farris.

Southern Miss, in comparison, has the highest team ERA in the World Series at 5.01 and still knocked out two No. 1 regional seeds to advance to Omaha.

At the plate, Texas prefers to play small ball, meaning the Longhorns like to bunt and steal bases. During the 2009 season, Texas led the nation is sacrifice bunts because the offense only hit 38 home runs and hit .287.

No Texas player hit 10 home runs or drove in 45 runs.

In comparison, Southern Miss features Bo Davis with 14 home runs and first baseman Joey Archer with 10.

As a team, Southern Miss hits .307 with 71 home runs.

To offset the Texas offense, sophomore Todd McInnis will become the first Golden Eagle to start a World Series game when he gets the call

McInnis, who pitched three combined times in the regional and super regional, is 9-4 with a 3.61 ERA.

“It’s going to be exciting,” McInnis said. “I don’t see that we are under any pressure because we have put that in the past by winning a regional and super regional. It’s going to be a great opportunity for me and plan on making the best of it. After we won the regional, I thought this team could go all the way and here we are.

“We know Texas is a great team and they want to get the first guy on because they like to play small ball. If they get a runner or, they will bunt or steal. I have to take pressure off the defense by getting the first guy out.”

Despite playing a top program like Texas, Palmer remains optimistic, in an odd ball way.

“Some guys don’t know where they’re at and I’m not going to wake them up,” he said.

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(c) 2009, The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.).

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Al Jones/The Sun Herald (MCT)