Gabe Montenegro doubled three times in support of Nick Sandlin as Southern Miss clinched its second consecutive Conference USA regular-season baseball championship Thursday with a 10-2 win over Marshall
In snapping a short-lived, two-game losing streak, the 18th-ranked Golden Eagles (37-15, 21-6 C-USA) not only locked up the season title, but secured the top seed at next week’s 21018 Conference USA Baseball Tournament at MGM Park in Biloxi.
Southern Miss will play in the 4 p.m. game Wednesday when the tournament opens, the third of first day’s four games.
“To come up here and get the first game to win a conference championship, which was one of the goals we had as a team and established at the beginning of the year, I’m very proud of the guys for getting that done,” Southern Miss coach baseball Scott Berry said.
Sandlin (8-0) allowed two runs on seven hits over eight innings. He walked no one and struck out eight.
“If you’re trying to get back on a winning streak, it certainly helps when you have a Nick Sandlin going for you,” Berry said.
Montenegro had three of Southern Miss’ 13 hits, driving in two runs and scoring twice.
Matt Wallner had a double and single and knocked in two runs, while Matthew Guidry scored twice.
The Golden Eagles jumped to 7-0 lead after two innings over the Thundering Herd (19-29, 7-20). Montenegro led off the game with a two-strike double, moved to third on a Luke Reynolds’ single and scored on Wallner’s single.
Guidry, who had walked, moved up two bases on the singles by Reynolds and Wallner, then stole home to give Southern Miss a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
The Golden Eagles finished off Marshall starting pitcher Ryan Falls (0-2) with five runs on four hits in the second inning. With one out, Cole Donaldson walked and moved to second base as Mason Irby extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a single.
LeeMarcus Boyd doubled to score Donaldson and send Irby to third base, and Montenegro’s grounder scored Irby for a 4-0 lead.
Guidry’s infield single scored Boyd, and he moved to second when Reynolds was hit by a pitch. Wallner doubled for a 6-0 lead and Reynolds made it a seven-run game when he came home on a wild pitch.
Falls allowed seven runs on seven hits in two innings. He walked one and struck out one. Marshall got two runs in the bottom of the second inning on run-scoring singles by Erik Rodriguez and Raul Cabrera, but in the fourth inning, Montenegro doubled, went to third on a flyball and then stole home to bump the lead back to 8-2.
Daniel Keating hit his fifth home run of the season in the fifth, a solo shot, for a 9-2 lead and Montenegro’s run-scoring double in the top of the ninth inning wrapped up the scoring.
The teams will play the second game of the three-game series at noon Friday. The game, originally set for 1 p.m., was moved up an hour because of the possibility of inclement weather later in the day.