Southern Miss

Southern Miss-Charlotte provides walk-off drama in the C-USA semis for the 2nd straight season

Southern Miss catcher Cole Donaldson tags Charlotte runner, Zack Smith (19) out at home plate during their game at MGM Park in Biloxi on Saturday.  Left fielder Gabe Montenegro made the toss to Donaldson on the play.
Southern Miss catcher Cole Donaldson tags Charlotte runner, Zack Smith (19) out at home plate during their game at MGM Park in Biloxi on Saturday. Left fielder Gabe Montenegro made the toss to Donaldson on the play. Special to The Sun Herald

For the second year in a row, a walk-off homer decided a Charlotte-Southern Miss contest in the Conference USA tournament semifinals.

This time, it was the 49ers who handed out the stinging defeat.

Tommy Bullock hit a 3-run home run over the left field wall with one out in the bottom of the ninth to give Charlotte (34-23) a 7-4 victory and set up another match with the Golden Eagles at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning at MGM Park.

Whoever comes out on top in the early game Sunday will advance to face the winner of another semifinal contest, FAU-Rice, in Sunday's 1 p.m. title game.

A year ago, USM's Taylor Braley was the one clearing the left field wall for a two-run home run to beat Charlotte 6-5 in the ninth.

Southern Miss (41-16) entered the bottom of the ninth Saturday with a 4-3 lead, but USM relief pitcher J.C. Keys allowed three of the four men he faced to reach in the inning. It was an RBI groundout by Drew Ober to score Todd Elwood that tied the game.

After Hunter Jones singled to center to put men on first and third and one out, USM chose to move center fielder Matt Wallner to the pitcher's mound.

Bullock sent Wallner's second pitch, a chest-high fastball, just below the left field scoreboard.

“It felt good to do it for these guys that were here last year,” Bullock said. “I was in junior college. To be able to do that for those guys, it's a great experience.”

Bullock, a junior second baseman, finished 2-of-5 with four RBIs and a run scored.

Charlotte pitchers issued eight walks, but Southern Miss failed to take advantage of multiple opportunities to expand on its lead. USM stranded 14 runners compared to Charlotte's five.

“We missed on those opportunities,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “Hats off to Charlotte. Their backs were against the wall just like we were last year.

“I'm anxious to get back out here in the morning. You've got one team that's riding a high of emotion and you've got another team that's disappointed. Tomorrow is a new opportunity for both of us.”

Philip Perry (2-3) picked up the win for Charlotte by throwing the final 2/3 scoreless innings.

USM wasted a quality start from Walker Powell, who gave up two earned runs on eight hits in seven innings. He struck out of five and walked none.

Three USM pitchers combined to walk one batter while seven Charlotte pitchers walked eight.

After using his top three starters to begin the tournament, Berry is unsure who he will put on the mound Sunday morning.

“We'll talk about that tonight and go from there,” Berry said. “We were playing it game-by-game. We weren't really saving anybody. We were trying to win this game. We'll see what we come up with. Whoever we put out there we expect to go out there and give us a chance to win.”

Junior right-hander Jarod Wright (3-1, 5.65), junior lefty Adam Jackson (1-1, 6.12) and Alex Nelms (0-0, 8.71) are among Berry's likely options to start Sunday.

USM has used six different pitchers through three games while Charlotte has used 11 different pitchers in four games.

Charlotte coach Loren Hibbs was also uncertain on his starting pitcher.

“I have no idea, but it doesn't matter,” he said. “Coach (Shohn) Doty and I will figure that out tonight.”

Charlotte catcher Zack Smith had a nice night at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a solo home run off the right field scoreboard in the fourth inning.

Redshirt freshman left fielder Gabe Montenegro and senior designated hitter Daniel Keating were the lone USM players with multiple hits. Montenegro was 2-of-3 with a triple and an RBI. Keating finished 2-of-4 with an RBI and a run scored.

Keys (3-5) took the loss, allowing three earned runs on two hits in 1 1/3 innings.

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