A trio of key two-out hits helped the Southern Miss baseball team maintain its grip on first place in Conference USA Saturday afternoon.
The Golden Eagles topped FIU 5-1 before a crowd of 3,362 at Pete Taylor Park with junior right-hander Colt Smith pitching three scoreless innings out of the bullpen to pick up the win.
Smith replaced Hayden Roberts with two out and the bases loaded in the fifth inning and forced Kenny Meimerstorf to ground into a force out at third to end the threat and keep the game tied at 1-1.
“Colt Smith was just very very good coming out of the pen,” USM head coach Scott Berry said. “He kind of reminded me of Tyler Perrett back in the mid 2000’s when he came here and (Christian) Talley his senior year where we could help get us (to the closer).”
Smith struck out three, walked none and allowed two hits to pick up the first victory of his USM career.
“I was just filling up the zone with my fastball and just working off that with my slider,” Smith said. “I was just throwing up zeroes for my team.”
Southern Miss (26-6, 10-1) clinched its fourth consecutive series victory in Conference USA play to start the 2017 season and will go for the sweep at noon on Sunday.
Four of USM’s five runs came in two-out situations.
The decisive moment of the contest came in the fifth inning with the game tied at 1-1 when junior third baseman Taylor Braley stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two out. He pulled a 2-1 offering from FIU right-hander Tyler Myrick to the left of shortstop to bring home a pair of runs and make it 3-1.
“I was just looking for something over the plate I could (hit) somewhere,” Braley said. “I was trying to keep the ball out of the air and hit it hard and hope the best comes out.”
It was freshman centerfielder Matt Wallner who provided the heroics in the bottom of the seventh. He had men on first and second when he singled through the right side of the infield to score Hunter Slater from second, pushing the USM lead to 4-1.
Wallner’s hitting streak was extended to 11 games and he now ranks second on the team with 29 RBIs.
Burdeaux tacked on the final run of the day when he brought home Storme Cooper from third on a double to center field with two outs in the bottom of the eighth.
Cooper and Burdeaux, who had a pair of doubles, both led USM with two hits a piece.
Nick Sandlin earned his fourth save of the season for USM, throwing 1 1/3 perfect innings.
Myrick (3-2) took the loss for FIU (17-14, 5-6), giving up two earned runs on three hits in five innings.
USM is 26-6 overall and 10-1 in conference and on track to easily clinch a spot in the C-USA Tournament set for MGM Park at in Biloxi on May 24-28.
Florida Atlantic and Old Dominion sit close behind Southern Miss in the standings, putting the pressure on USM to keep up its winning ways.
“I wouldn’t say we necessarily look at other people and see how they’re doing,” Braley said. “We just take it game by game and day by day and just do the best we can. You just leave no doubt and there’s nothing you can control after that.”
Sophomore right-hander J.C. Keys (2-1, 3.46) will be the starting pitcher in Sunday’s noon series finale. Keys is coming off an eight-inning one-hitter at Western Kentucky last week. Right-hander Nick McDonald (4-0, 2.05) will be the starter for FIU.