Two days after falling flat against UTSA, the Southern Miss baseball team sent the Roadrunners packing back to San Antonio.
Taylor Braley delivered on the mound and the Golden Eagles put together their best effort at the plate of the Conference USA tournament, topping UTSA 7-1 in an elimination game Friday night before an impressive crowd of approximately 4,150 at MGM Park.
Braley gave up seven hits over eight scoreless innings, striking out nine and walking none to pick up the victory.
"I couldn't do it without my teammates, without all these fans coming here and packing the place out on this Friday night," Braley said. "It was awesome just being able to have support from all these people even though it's not even a home game."
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With Brett Favre on hand to watch, Southern Miss (46-13) moved one win away from tying the program mark for wins in a season.
USM will have to beat Charlotte (34-22) twice on Saturday to advance to Sunday's 1 p.m. title game. The Golden Eagles and 49ers, who are undefeated through two games, meet at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. If USM wins the first game, they will meet again later in the day at 7:30 p.m.
Whoever comes out on top will advance to the title game against the winner of Rice-FAU, who are set to meet at 9 a.m. on Saturday. FAU will have to beat Rice twice on Saturday to play for the championship.
The Day 1 crowd (3,727) and Day 3 crowd (4,276) both surpassed the largest single-day attendance from last year's C-USA tournament in Hattiesburg – 3,593 for the title game.
"We expected a pretty good crowd, but it was awesome," USM senior Dylan Burdeaux said. "These fans are unreal. They show up every day. At 12:30 yesterday, there was a good crowd. I told them, 'Guys don't let us to get to tomorrow night because this place is going to be jumping and it's going to be a fun one to play in front of.'"
Braley put in one of his best performances of the season, improving to 6-2.
He appeared to tire in the eighth inning when UTSA started off with three consecutive singles to load the bases with none out.
Braley recovered to get two consecutive strikeouts and force Bryan Arias to hit a grounder to shortstop LeeMarcus Boyd, who made a tough play to get the fielder's choice at third and end the inning with no damage done.
"We were asking for a ground ball to get a double play," USM catcher Bryant Bowen said. "He just said, I guess, 'Screw that. I'm just striking them all out.' He got the ground ball with two outs. That was pretty awesome."
Southern Miss had 12 hits total with four different players coming up with multiple hits.
Burdeaux started off the first inning with a bloop single and later scored on a fielder's choice groundout to second by Matt Wallner, giving the Golden Eagles the 1-0 lead.
Burdeaux knocked in the second run of the game on his 100th hit of the season, a double to left, to drive home Boyd all the way from first base to make it 2-0 in the second inning.
USM's first two batters in the lineup, Burdeaux and Mason Irby, combined to go 5-for-8 at the plate with two RBIs.
Bowen got the Eagles going in the top of the fourth with a solo home run, his fifth of the season, that soared above the net in left field.
"I was sitting soft and he just threw a fastball in, I reacted and let my hands go," Bowen said. "It took off."
Irby later added an RBI single and Braley brought home another run on a sacrifice fly to push the Southern Miss lead to 5-0 after four innings.
Boyd and Matthew Guidry both had RBI singles in the fifth inning to break open the game and give the Golden Eagles a 7-0 advantage.
Freshman right-hander Alex Nelms, a Gulfport product, gave up one run on two hits in the ninth inning to close out the win.
Pascagoula's Tracy Hadley, who played third base, finished 2-for-5 at the plate with one run scored.
Braley's outing allowed USM head coach Scott Berry to rest his pitching staff headed into a day where the Golden Eagles need to win two games to advance.
Sophomore left-hander Stevie Powers and redshirt sophomore Hayden Roberts have the most starting experience of those available to throw Saturday.
"We're in a situation where some guys are going to get opportunities," USM coach Scott Berry said. "They're going to have to step up. We have 27 guys on this roster right now just like everybody else. There are some guys who haven't pitched as much as they probably want. They need to get ready. The opportunity is fixing to come at them."
UTSA's season came to a close with a record of 29-27. Nolan Trabanino (6-7) took the loss, allowing six earned runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings.
9 a.m. — FAU vs. Rice
12:30 p.m. — Southern Miss vs. UTSA