Trailing 6-1 in the top of the fifth inning, things were looking bleak for the Southern Miss baseball team in the Friday afternoon opener of the Hattiesburg Regional.
A grand slam by Illinois-Chicago’s Rob Calabrese helped force USM ace Kirk McCarty from the game and sent Pete Taylor Park into a stunned silence.
“It wasn’t a good mood,” USM redshirt freshman Matthew Guidry said of his team’s dugout. “Everyone was quiet, trying to figure it out. We had to wake up.”
Guidry was the man who provided that wake-up call in the bottom of the fifth with a two-out, two-run triple to spark the Golden Eagles’ rally for an 8-7 win over UIC.
Southern Miss (49-14) will play the winner of Mississippi State-South Alabama at 6 p.m. on Saturday in the winner’s bracket. UIC (39-16) will get the loser of MSU-USA at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
The left-handed hitting Guidry entered the game as a pinch hitter for Daniel Keating in the fifth and responded by going 2-for-2 with three RBIs and a run scored.
Guidry has been one of USM’s hottest bats of late, raising his batting average to a team-leading .370.
On Friday, he was instant offense off the bench.
“You try to stay locked in even if you aren’t in the starting lineup,” Guidry said. “You try to kick start yourself in a hurry. I lock in and understand what my job is and stay as level-headed as possible.”
A crowd of 4,239 showed up for the 1 p.m. first pitch on Friday and UIC coach Mike Dee believes the rowdy crowd played a role in his team’s performance.
“To be fair and honest, it’s a tough environment,” he said. “The fans are great and they are all over you. They’re aggressive and both teams are trying their rear ends off. I think their team was the feeling the effects of the stress too and just outlasted us.”
It was far from a pretty game for either squad. UIC, which entered the game with the nation’s best fielding percentage of .985, committed three errors and the Golden Eagles had two of their own.
“We had some defensive mistakes we haven’t all year,” Dee said. “We hadn’t made three errors (in a game) in a month.”
McCarty put in possibly his worst outing of the season, giving up six runs on five hits in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out four, walked three and hit two batters.
“He hung an 0-2 breaking ball on the kid who hit the home run,” Berry said. “But I wasn’t disappointed with that, I was disappointed with the two walks and the hit batter that lead to that inning. There were so many things in this game where both teams hurt themselves.”
UIC starting pitcher Jake Dahlberg also struggled with his control, tying his career high with six walks. He allowed three runs, two earned, on three hits in 4 2/3 innings.
Guidry’s triple in the fifth came off UIC reliever Mitchell Schulewitz and Pascagoula native Tracy Hadley followed with an RBI single to cut the UIC lead to 6-4.
USM put up four more runs in the sixth. Two of the runs came on a pair of UIC errors and another resulted from a wild pitch. Guidry also had an RBI single in the inning to help the Golden Eagles take an 8-6 lead.
Hayden Roberts (5-2) picked up the win in relief, giving up one run on two hits in 1 2/3 innings.
Nick Sandlin pitched two scoreless innings to earn his eighth save of the season. UIC loaded the bases on Sandlin with two outs in the ninth, but he closed the deal by forcing Mickey McDonald to hit into a fielder’s choice at second base.
“Neither club played particularly well, but at the end of the day it is about winning,” Berry said. “You certainly take an ugly win over a pretty loss, and that’s what it was today. I’m proud of our guys coming back from being down 6-1.”
Berry did not commit to junior right-hander Taylor Braley as his starting pitcher for Saturday’s game, but he seems the likely choice.