Matt Wallner

Matt Wallner has 21 home runs this season. Photo/Zac Chamblee

BATON ROUGE, La. – Southern Miss begins its 16th trip to the NCAA Tournament Friday afternoon when they take on Arizona State in a noon match-up at Alex Box Stadium in the first game of the Baton Rouge Regional.

The Golden Eagles (38-19) reached the NCAA Tournament by earning an automatic qualification in winning the Conference USA Tournament for the third time over the last four years. Southern Miss went undefeated in that event last week, blanking Florida Atlantic 4-0 in the championship game.

The trip for the Golden Eagles marks their fourth-straight to the postseason and sixth overall under Southern Miss 10th-year coach Scott Berry. Southern Miss plays a Sun Devil squad that holds a 37-17 record and finished fifth in the Pac-12 with a 16-13 mark.

The Sun Devils come into the weekend as the nation’s top home run hitting club with 92, including 22 from Bishop Hunter, 21 from Spencer Torkelson and 13 from Trevor Hauver.

ASU started the season with a 21-game winning streak and were 25-1 at one point during the year.

Junior right-handed pitcher Alec Marsh will get the call for the Sun Devils who has posted a 9-3 record with a 3.17 ERA. He has fanned 92 and walked 33 over 98 2/3 innings.

The Golden Eagles will counter with freshman Gabe Shepard, who is 2-0 with a 2.16 ERA on the year, and combined with two other Golden Eagles for a no-hitter against Rice last Saturday morning which was the first since 2004 for the school. Shepard has appeared in 10 games and made seven starts and has fanned 42 over 25 innings of work.

Shepard will look to his offense for support that includes junior DH Bryant Bowen, who has posted a .340 batting average with 11 homers and 49 RBI.

Junior Matt Wallner, the 2019 C-USA Tournament MVP, is next at .324 with 21 homers and 55 RBI. Wallner has 56 career home runs at the school, which ranks No. 1 on the career charts for the Golden Eagles.

All-Conference USA second-team selection Gabe Montenegro added a .323 batting mark with a five homers and 22 RBI, while senior first baseball Hunter Slater adds a .311 mark with 11 homers and a team-high 57 RBI, while junior Matt Guidry holds a .300 batting average with six homers and 38 RBI.

In the regional’s second game, No. 1 seed LSU takes on No. 4 seed Stony Brook at 6 p.m. The losers from the first two games will play at noon Saturday, while the winner’s bracket game is set for 6 p.m.

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