Applebee's again? How the restaurant entered Southern Miss, Tennessee baseball conversation

Southern Miss baseball can finally eat good in the neighborhood.

The Golden Eagles are coming to Knoxville a year after hosting a super regional against Tennessee baseball, an NCAA decision that was so debated it trickled humorously online into the fact that Hattiesburg lacked an Applebee's while Knoxville has multiple.

That's not an issue this year and a dinner at Applebee's is within grasp for Southern Miss.

“I haven’t had Applebee’s in a long time so I might," Southern Miss coach Christian Ostrander said Monday when asked if he would stop by an Applebee's. "I’ve heard it’s good over there.”

No. 1 seed Tennessee is hosting the Knoxville Regional, which includes No. 2-seeded Southern Miss and begins Friday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The teams played a terrific three-game Hattiesburg Super Regional last season that ended with the Vols going to Omaha but started with internet fodder.

How Applebee's entered Tennessee baseball vs. Southern Miss clash

Tennessee and Southern Miss both believed each had the best case to host a super regional in 2023. Anything from stadium size to hotels to a coach retiring to conference membership to, well, the number of Applebee's was debated.

Hattiesburg does not have an Applebee's after its lone location closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The nearest location in Laurel, Mississippi, is about a half-hour drive from Pete Taylor Park. That fact became a punchline leading into the super regional as a metric the NCAA must have ignored in its decision-making process. The joke behind the fact was largely and continually missed.

The City of Hattiesburg got involved though its official account on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“Our thriving economy is home to more than 200 local restaurants," a post read. "Granted, it may not be the bourbon street steak and oreo shake you love.”

Hattiesburg restaurateur Robert St. John posted a video on social media encouraging fans to feast at the city's many local cuisine options in the absence of an Applebee's.

The Applebee's punchline lives on for Southern Miss baseball

Applebee's has three locations in Knoxville. That is hardly any indication of some undying devotion Tennessee fans have for the chain restaurant.

But that is how it was seen in 2023, as Southern Miss fans gravitated to the joke as a reality. Some fans held up signs about Applebee's to the Tennessee bus as it pulled up the ballpark before the super regional. The song "Fancy Like" by Walker Hayes played before games for its references to Applebee's.

Away it went and on it goes.

"I heard they got one so I might have to stop by," Golden Eagles pitcher Billy Oldham said.

HOSTING: Tennessee baseball earns No. 1 overall seed, hosting Knoxville Regional for NCAA Tournament

The Vols ultimately prevailed against USM last season, losing the first game and falling behind in the second before winning the second and third games to go to the College World Series. Tennessee (50-11) enters this postseason without any worry over a hosting debate if it advanced to a super regional for the fourth straight season.

It might have to conquer Southern Miss (40-18) again in the process.

"They were not too happy about coming to Hattiesburg so now we’re going there," Oldham said. "We’ll see what it’s like at their field.”

Hattiesburg American reporter Sam Sklar contributed to this report

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at michael.wilson@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: What to know about Tennessee baseball, Southern Miss and Applebee's