Golden Eagles vs Owls: The feathers fly at 1 p.m.

No doubt about it, Southern Miss came into the Conference USA tournament as the odds-on favorite, with a 14-game winning streak and not having lost a game for more than a month.

But the opening-day loss to No. 8 seed Texas-San Antonio launched the Eagles on a five-day roller coaster ride that culminates today, with the top-seeded Eagles face No. 6-seeded Rice in the 2017 Conference USA Championship Title Game, which begins at 1 p.m. at MGM Park and will be televised by the CBS Sports Network.

And it was a Biloxi product, USM assistant coach B.A. Vollmuth, who played an inspirational role for Taylor Braley, whose two-run, walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Golden Eagles a 6-5 victory over the fourth-seeded Charlotte 49ers and a spot in the title game.

Said Braley of the moments before his game-winning homer: “I was talking to B.A. and (Associate Head Coach Chad) Caillet said, ‘B.A. would have walked up to me in 2009 and say, ‘I’m fixing to win this game.’ I said, ‘If Irby gets on, I’m going to do it.'”

Today’s game could also push attendance at the Conference USA tournament to the 20,000 mark. More than 16,000 fans have turned out so far for the games, buoyed by the Golden Eagles play.

Tickets are $14.50 and are available at the MGM Park box office.
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News and notes: The championship game

Historically speaking: Today’s game marks the fifth time in nine years this ornithological matchup (birds, get it?) has taken place in the final game.  No other matchup has happened more than twice in league history.  Each school has won twice in these head-to-head matchups.  Southern Miss won last year’s championship title game showdown, 3-2. 

About Southern Miss: The top-seeded Golden Eagles enter today’s title contest 48-13 on the season and 4-1 in tourney play to date. Since Wednesday, Southern Miss is hitting .281 (47-of-167) with a .455 slugging percentage on the strength of nine doubles, a triple and six home runs. Two Golden Eagles are hitting .400 or better as Bryant Bowen checks in with a .462 clip (6-of-13) and Matt Wallner at .400 exactly (8-of-20). Taylor Braley leads the unit with two homers while Wallner and Matthew Guidry share the RBI lead with five apiece. On the hill, Southern Miss has a team 3.60 ERA after allowing 18 earned runs (25 total) on 49 hits over the last 45.0 innings.

About Rice: The sixth-seeded Owls enter today’s title game 30-29 on the year, including a perfect 3-0 showing in this year’s event. In MGM Park, Rice is hitting .297 (30-of-101) with a .475 slugging percentage courtesy of six doubles and four home runs. Five Owls are hitting .300 or better with Charlie Warren leading the way with a .556 clip (5-of-9). Dayne Wunderlich is next with a .455 batting average (5-of-11), followed by Tristan Gray at .364 (4-of-11), Dane Myers at .357 (5-of-14) and Dominic DiCaprio at .333 (4-of-12). Gray paces the squad with two home runs while DiCaprio has a team-best five RBI during the march to the championship showdown. From the mound, Rice sports a 2.88 ERA after allowing just eight runs on 19 hits over 25.0 innings of work while holding opponents to a combined .204 batting average (19-of-93).

Southern Miss in the title game: The Golden Eagles will be playing in the Conference USA  title game for the seventh time and looking to claim their fourth title. One of just two teams to be members of the league since the inaugural 1996 season, Southern Miss is the only program to not only play in all 22 championship tournaments but win at least one game each year. The Golden Eagles won the title in 2003, 2010 and 2016, while finishing runner-up in 2004, 2009 and 2013.

Rice in the title game: The Owls are making their eighth trip to the Conference USA title game and are 6-2 in those games to date. Rice’s six tourney titles is a league record, taking home the crown in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2014. The Owls finished runners-up in 2010 and 2016.