When Cole Donaldson stumbled and hit the dirt behind home plate in the eighth inning Thursday, it appeared as if the Southern Miss catcher might not be able to finish the game.
He was in serious pain after taking a foul tip off his knee cap.
An inning later, he knocked in an insurance run to give the Golden Eagles their final run in a 5-2 victory over Louisiana Tech in a Conference USA tournament elimination game at MGM Park.
It was a quick recovery for the first-year sophomore, who transferred in from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College in the offseason.
“It was kind of like it hit my funny bone a little bit,” Donaldson said. “It just squared me up. It didn't get a whole lot of padding, but it went away a little bit. It was something I had to walk off.”
Donaldson was brought in as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning for Bryant Bowen, who had a 1-for-3 effort at the plate.
USM would have been in a tight spot if Donaldson had left the game. There was no other catcher left on the USM bench after Bowen's departure. Another option, Jake Viaene, was subbed out as the designated hitter earlier in the game.
Donaldson struggled early in the season with his bat, but he is now hitting .281.
“He's just a tough kid,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “His year has gotten better as it's gone along. He's had some big RBIs this year and you saw it again today.”
Both Louisiana Tech and Florida International likely saw their seasons come to a close on Thursday at MGM Park.
FIU was the first team to leave the tournament after losing the morning game 8-4 to rival FAU. The Panthers finished the season with a record of 31-27 and their RPI ranking of No. 83 will likely keep them out of the NCAA Tournament field.
Louisiana Tech (36-20) will hope for some luck when the postseason selections are announced on Monday, but their fifth-place finish in the C-USA tournament will likely prevent them from being one of the 64 teams in the tournament.
Louisiana Tech head coach Lane Burroughs said before the tournament that he believed his team needed two or three wins to get in. He acknowledged after the game that his team's season was likely at an end.
With an RPI ranking of No. 44, Louisiana will be a long shot to join the tournament field.
USM (45-13) and Old Dominion (37-19) appear to be the only safe bets to reach the postseason for C-USA.
Eagle Hour arrives on Coast
Southern Miss fans on the Coast now have a chance to listen to the “Eagle Hour,” an hour-long radio show that's part of the SuperTalk Mississippi network.
The SuperTalk affiliate in Ocean Springs, 103.1-FM, has picked up the Eagle Hour, which runs in the 1 p.m. hour each weekday.
The Eagle Hour cast of Bob Ghetti, Jim “Stump” Taylor and Luke Johnson has been at MGM Park in Biloxi this week running a special two-hour broadcast.
USM athletic director Jon Gilbert was on the Thursday broadcast, one example of the long list USM luminaries who have been on the show.
New USM record
The Southern Miss pitching staff brought its strikeout total to 529 for the season to set a new single-season program mark.
USM starting pitcher Kirk McCarty (10-2) struck out six to get the win, bringing his season total to 96 in 91 1/3 innings.
USM closer Nick Sandlin struck out four in two innings to earn the save and bring his strikeout total to 68 in 45 2/3 innings.
Note: The attendance on the first day of the C-USA tournament on Wednesday was 3,727.