UTSA hit the field hot while Southern Miss came out stone cold flat.
The fiery Roadrunners thumped the Golden Eagles 9-2 Wednesday on the first day of Conference USA tournament at MGM Park. The outcome ended USM's 14-game winning streak, which had been the longest running streak in the nation and the longest in program history.
“Mentally, we weren't in it to meet the challenge of UTSA and the energy level they brought,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “I'm very disappointed in that, but the message to the team is we're going to take this loss and we're going to turn it into a win later on.”
USM (44-13) will play the loser of Wednesday's late contest, Charlotte-La. Tech, at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday in an elimination contest. UTSA will face the winner of Charlotte-Tech game at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday.
USM, which is the No. 1 seed in the eight-team field, was coming off a three-game sweep of the Roadrunners just last week.
On Wednesday, it was No. 8 UTSA (29-26) that resembled the top seed, pounding out seven doubles to tie the C-USA tournament single-game record.
UTSA shortstop C.J. Pickering tied the tournament's individual record of three doubles.
“The three or four days that we had off (after the sweep by USM) were healthy for us, just to put the weekend behind us” UTSA coach Jason Marshall said. “That was by far our worst baseball last weekend, but it might have been Southern Miss' best baseball. They truly turned our ballpark into Williamsport. The fact that we came out with some fire and played good baseball is a testimony to our good days this season (wins over Baylor and Texas Tech).”
Southern Miss, which was in good position to host an NCAA regional in the first round of the postseason, didn't help its cause with the poor showing.
Wednesday's loss came before a crowd of approximately 2,700 fans at MGM Park.
“If we come out and do the same thing tomorrow, I can guarantee you we'll be going home,” Berry said.
UTSA starting pitcher Steven Dressler delivered in a crucial contest for his team, lasting 7 2/3 innings and throwing 132 pitches. He gave up two runs on eight hits, striking out four and walking five.
“We went back and forth on who to start today,” Berry said. “He's kind of been hot and cold. He threw really well against USM last Thursday, got into the eighth and the wheels fell off for us. He hung in there and did a good job.”
USM made a handful of baffling mistakes during the course of the game.
With two out and a man on third in the top of the fourth, USM relief pitcher Trent Driver attempted a pickoff move to first. With the base unoccupied, first baseman Dylan Burdeaux was not covering the bag. The ball rolled into foul territory, allowing Pickering to jog home for the fourth and final run of the inning, pushing the UTSA lead to 8-2.
Another strange moment came in the bottom of the fifth when Taylor Braley, who hit an impressive solo homer in the third, stepped to the plate with men on first and second with two out.
LeeMarcus Boyd, the man on second, was thrown out trying to steal third, ending the inning with Braley standing in the batter's box.
Berry was asked about the “head-scratching” plays after the game.
“You're right. They're head-scratching plays,” Berry said. “I don't know. That sums up where we were mentally today. The mental side of the game that we did not correct transferred into the physical side.”
UTSA left fielder Kevin Markham also had a big day at the plate, going 3-for-5 with two doubles and two runs scored.
Boyd, Matt Wallner and Cole Donaldson each had two hits for USM, which left a total of 10 runners on base.
USM starting pitcher Colt Smith wasn't at his best. He allowed three earned runs on seven hits in 2 2/3 innings.
Driver struggled through an inning of working, allowing four runs on three hits.
Sophomore right-hander J.C. Keys saved the USM bullpen, giving up one run on one hit in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out six and walked two.
Junior left-hander Kirk McCarty will be the starting pitcher for USM on Thursday.
Who: Southern Miss vs. La. Tech winner
When: 12:30 p.m., Thursday
Where: MGM Park, Biloxi