It's Baseball Time in Tennessee: Vols in the Hattiesburg Super Regional vs. Southern Miss. (June 10-12)

Recently: Tennessee swept the Clemson Regional, including Saturday's thrilling 6-5 win over the host Tigers in 14 innings, a game that will never be forgotten by the living fan. Tennessee also beat Charlotte in the opening game Friday and again in the Region Championship game Sunday to advance to their third Super Regional in as many seasons. 

Southern Miss ended Penn's Cinderella run by beating the Quakers twice out of the loser's bracket in the Auburn Regional. 

Previously on Vols in the Super Regional: Oh man. Do we have to? 

Following a historic regular season, Tennessee lost the 2022 Knoxville Super Regional against Notre Dame. The Irish became one of six visiting teams to advance to Omaha from the Supers last year, a number we will revisit in a bit. 

Tennessee is 6-2 all-time against Southern Miss, including 3-2 in Hattiesburg, but the two teams haven't played in over 30 years. 

What to Watch: I'm just going to get this out of the way--Tennessee should've hosted this Super Regional. That topic has been beaten to death this week though, and regardless of what should've happened, what is happening is Tennessee travels to Southern Mississippi for this Super Regional best-of-three series. The road has not been kind to Tennessee this year, and not just because they played a brutal schedule. Some of the weaker teams UT played on the road still got over on the Vols. Tennessee went to Missouri and Georgia, two teams that fired their coaches at season's end for example, and returned 1-5 in those six games. In fact you can make a great argument that Tennessee would've already been hosting in the regional round had they just won those (or even one of those) series. 

But Tony Vitello contends that Tennessee started getting better on the road in that UGA series and continued improving in their season-finale series win at South Carolina. By the time the Vols capped off their stay in Clemson last weekend--the first time UT has won a regional away from Knoxville btw--you wouldn't have known they were away from home at all. Christian Moore led Tennessee with an incredible .700 average and 2.833 OPS(!), 4 HRs, 8 RBI, and 21 total bases. Moore leads all UT hitters going into the Supers:

The Tennessee lineup will face a Southern Miss pitching staff that has a couple of really nice pieces, but also could give Tennessee some opportunities to make plays. USM ace Tanner Hall has a fastball in the low 90s, a changeup around 85, and a slider that will get in on the hands of our left-handed batters like Maui Ahuna and Blake Burke, who are already struggling at the plate lately. It's not hard to imagine this pitch giving Vol batters trouble:


Closer Will Armistead tops out around 88 and with his sidearm release point has some very tricky movement on the ball as well. Couple of nasty pitches here for example:


After that, however, the staff drops off quite a bit. Check how the ERAs balloon quickly the deeper in the pen the Eagles go:
Meanwhile Tennessee's pitching staff looked phenomenal over the weekend, posting a 2.25 ERA while striking out 41 batters and holding opponents to a .219 batting average. Only Chase Dollander really struggled, and with the support he has coming out of the bullpen, Doe can be given a little rope. Tennessee pitching this season: 
It will be strength vs. strength when UT's pitchers face the Eagles' batters. While USM's pitching staff is top-heavy, the hitting lineup is strong top to bottom. Five Southern Miss players were named to the Auburn Regional All-Tournament team, and shortstop Dustin Dickerson was Most Outstanding player. 

One final look at stats, a couple of overall team comparisons: 
You can see that Tennessee has relied on home runs to generate offense this year, while Southern Miss uses extra-base hits to bring runners in. Notice the number of doubles the Eagles have this season. This is the real reason the battle over who should host has been a hot topic this week, not because one town is more habitable than the other, but because each park suits the offensive style of its resident team. Pete Taylor Park is a deeper field than Lindsey Nelson Stadium, being 340 down the lines, 365 in the power allies and 400 to center (compared to 320, 360, and 390 at LNS). Clemson's Doug Kingsmore Stadium has dimensions similar to LNS too, which could account for some of UT's success there last weekend. There is an actual home-field advantage at play here for Southern Miss, regardless of the tickets sold to visiting fans or the accommodations of the host city.

So with the road woes throughout the season, and the home field being friendly to USM's style of play, are the Vols hopeless traveling to Hattiesburg? Not by a long shot. Tennessee still has the decided advantage when it comes to pitching staffs. Saturday's game one will be huge for the series, especially if the Vols can get a win over Tanner Hall, who the Eagles won't be able to put on the hill for a second time like they did in the regional tournament. 

A year ago, Southern Miss was one of six super regional hosts to fail to make it to Omaha (as was Tennessee). The energy coming from the stands can be huge for the home team, but it cuts both ways. If the fans start to get pensive and the here we go again mindset creeps in, that can hurt the team just as much as the shouts and cheers can encourage. It seems this affect is magnified in college baseball, where the settings are more intimate than they often are in other sports--which could help explain the difficulty host schools have had in advancing past the supers. Best case scenario for the Vols is to get momentum early and take the home crowd out of of the game and let the doubt creep into the minds of the Southern Miss fans and players. 


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