USM sweeps Middle Tennessee
|Jack Duggan, Assistant Athletic Director/Media Relations
Hattiesburg, Miss. - It was an afternoon for baseball's rarely seen at Pete Taylor Park Sunday.
An inside-the-park grand slam.
A losing team amass 19 hits.
A Tim Lynch strikeout.
But in the end, it was more of the same for Southern Miss.
The Golden Eagles rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to earn a frenetic, walk-off 12-11 Conference USA victory over Middle Tennessee before 3,154.
"What do they call it? Magic at The Pete?" asked right fielder Dylan Burdeaux, who had the lone hit in a ninth-inning rally that commenced with four consecutive walks and ended with second baseman Storme Cooper dashing in from third base with the game-winning run on a wild pitch.
"It was definitely a crazy one (Sunday), but it's always better to come out on top."
Coupled with Charlotte's 7-6 win in 15 innings over Florida Atlantic Sunday, the Golden Eagles (25-8, 11-1 C-USA) hold a two-game lead in the league standings over both FAU and Rice.
"To win a game like that, it's definitely not the most conventional way to win," said Lynch, who went 3 for 4 Sunday, with two doubles and three runs batted in. His lone out was a sixth-inning whiff, just his fourth strikeout of the season and first since March 8.
"With the new bat era, you don't win many games when you give up 11 runs, but we have a very good offense."
Indeed. Southern Miss collected 10 hits, the 11th time in 12 C-USA games this season that the Golden Eagles have recorded double-digit hits.
And with the way the Blue Raiders (14-18, 2-10) came out swinging, the Golden Eagles needed all the offense they could muster.
Southern Miss pitching allowed a season-high 19 hits, including four apiece by oufielders Brad Jarreau and Blake Benefield. Shortstop Riley Delgado reached base five times on three singles and two walks and scored four runs.
A five-run fifth inning by MT - highlighted by right fielder Austin Dennis' bases-loaded, sinking liner that skipped under the glove of diving center fielder Jake Sandlin and rolled to the wall - flipped the scoreboard in the Blue Raiders' favor. With two more runs in the seventh, MT still sported an 11-8 lead going into the final two innings.
But Burdeaux doubled and scored on Lynch's single to make it 11-9, and MT reliever Cody Puckett (3-1) opened the ninth inning by throwing 12 balls - along with a wild pitch - among his 13 pitches to load the bases with no outs.
Caleb Smith was summoned from the bullpen, but shortstop Nick Dawson coaxed a full-count walk to force in third baseman Michael Gilbert to cut Southern Miss' deficit to one run.
On the next pitch, Burdeaux laced a single into left field, scoring pinch-hitter Claudio Rubiera with the game-tying run and leaving the bases loaded, still with no outs.
Smith missed with a pitch with Sandlin at the plate, then bounced his second pitch to the backstop past catcher Vaughn Shapen
"My eyes got real big," said Cooper, who had extended his hitting streak to seven games with two hits earlier Sunday. "Before that, Coach Berry said, 'If you see one bounce good, take it,' and I knew I had that one because it bounced to the wall back there."
The win was Southern Miss' 10th consecutive in conference play this spring, and 21st in its last 22 C-USA games dating to 2015. It was the Golden Eagles' third consecutive conference series sweep this year and seventh straight C-USA series victory dating to 2015.
"I'll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any time, I'll tell ya," Berry said. "Our guys, they stayed the course. It was a mentally taxing game, I think, for both clubs, but I'm proud of the way our guys stayed the course and played the game all the way through.
"In the seventh inning, I told them, 'Hey, it's a challenge today, but I have all the confidence in the world in you guys. Go in there, and just keep grinding it out.' And that's what we've seen. You don't win 25 games to being a fluke. There's some substance in there."
Right-hander Jake Winston (4-0), Southern Miss' fourth pitcher, picked up the win with a perfect ninth inning, striking out one. The Golden Eagles also got a boost from left-hander Cody Livingston, who allowed three runs on five hits over 3 2/3 innings.
The Blue Raiders touched up Southern Miss starter Kirk McCarty for four hits to open the game, with third baseman Daniel Huff's single giving MT a 1-0 lead.
But the Golden Eagles answered in the bottom of the inning. MT lefty Jake Wyrick hit Burdeaux and walked Sandlin before surrendering Lynch's two-run double into the right-center field gap for a 2-1 lead.
With two hits off left-handers Sunday, Lynch improved to 18-of-37 (.486) against left-handers this season.
MT tied the game in the third, with Huff's bloop single into shallow right field scoring Jarreau, and through three innings, MT had nicked McCarty for nine hits, but had stranded six baserunners, two in each inning.
Southern Miss broke back on top in the bottom of the third inning, scoring three times and knocking Wyrick from the game.
Sandlin and Lynch walked to start the rally, and when Wyrick threw away left fielder Chase Scott's sacrifice bunt, Sandlin scored, with Lynch moving to third base and Scott to second.
Gilbert's single brought home Lynch and Scott scored on a sacrifice fly by catcher Chuckie Robinson to give Southern Miss a 5-2 lead.
But the Blue Raiders continued to swing the bats, scoring two more runs in the fourth on four hits. Dennis' single drove McCarty from the game, and designated hitter Aaron Aucker's double to right-center pulled MT within 5-4.
A single and three walks forced in one run for the Blue Raiders off Southern Miss reliever Austin Millet in the fifth. Livingston relieved and Dennis laced a liner that Sandlin couldn't reach coming in. It not only cleared the bases, but Dennis sped all the way home as well for a 9-5 MT lead.
Southern Miss got three runs back in the bottom of the fifth on Dawson's two-run double and Burdeaux' double, but the Blue Raiders nicked Livingston for two runs in the seventh, setting up the late-inning dramatics.
"I've been here 16 years, and I've seen it several times, and it's always nice when it shows up," Berry said of the ninth-inning heroics. "The crowd was into it (Sunday), and the magic comes when you keep playing hard and you earn it."