02 Jun

number crunching

Anything can happen on the field in a double-elimination tournament, but there are numbers on the stat sheet that bode well for Southern Miss’ chances in the Auburn Regional that starts today. In terms of run differential — a good measure of a team’s balance — USM, at plus-113, is far better than top seed Auburn (plus-69) or No. 3 Samford (plus-30), the Golden Eagles’ first-round foe. Penn, the 4-seed, has a plus-137, but the competition the Quakers faced in the Ivy League doesn’t compare to what the other three see in the baseball-crazy South. (The bottom three teams in the Ivy this season won a combined 24 games.) USM also has a far better staff ERA (4.60) than either Samford (6.00) or Auburn (5.80). Pitching coach — and head-coach-in-waiting — Christian Ostrander does a masterful job with young arms. Tanner Hall, the staff ace, is 12-3 with a 2.23 ERA. The junior right-hander, a virtual unknown at the start of the 2022 campaign, has won back-to-back conference pitcher of the year awards and has been a first-team All-America pick both years by Collegiate Baseball Magazine. But you gotta have some depth. USM can trot out four pitchers with sub-4.00 ERAs, an accomplishment in NCAA Division I ball. One of those four is closer Justin Storm, an intimidating (6 feet 6, 225 pounds) lefty who is 5-1 with eight saves, a 2.52 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings. Samford’s ace is Jacob Cravey (9-2, 3.19, CB second-team All-America, Southern Conference pitcher of the year), and the Bulldogs closer is Ben Petschke (14 saves, 4.29). Auburn’s top arm is starter Tommy Vail (5-1, 3.46). For the record, Auburn and Samford have a significantly better fielding percentage number (.978) than USM (.970), though the Eagles, with 41 wins, are hardly considered a poor defensive team. For what it’s worth, the Eagles have proven their mettle on the road, going 15-12 away from Taylor Park, including winning the Sun Belt Conference Tournament title in Montgomery, Ala. P.S. Kudos to Resurrection Catholic (Class 1A) and Lewisburg (6A) for winning MHSAA state championships on Thursday at Trustmark Park in Pearl.

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