Matt Wallner became the Southern Miss all-time home run leader Saturday, hitting one over the right-field fence in the first inning and blasting nother over the center-field wall in the ninth of a 13-10 loss to UAB.
The two home runs gives the junior right fielder 54 for his career. He broke Marc Maddox’s record of 53 set in 2003-06.
But the rest of the news out of Pete Taylor Park in the final game of the regular season was not good.
Earlier in the day, Florida Atlantic defeated Middle Tennessee State 8-7 to clinch the Conference USA regular-season baseball championship outright.
Southern Miss, which had won the league title the past two seasons, finished second this year.
FAU finished the regular season with a 22-8 C-USA record. Southern Miss is at 20-10, with an overall record of 34-19.
The Conference USA tournament begins Wednesday at MGM Park in Biloxi, with the title game scheduled for May 26. The tournament champion automatically advances to the NCAA Tournament.
The Golden Eagles will play seventh-seeded Rice in the first round of the C-USA Tournament at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Saturday’s loss was USM’s sixth in its last 10 games, leaving little doubt that there is only one way for the Golden Eagles to go farther that the C-USA Tournament and into the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season.
“We’ve got to go to the (Conference USA) tournament and win it,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “It’s that simple. I don’t think there’s any other choice if we want to continue to play. We’re certainly not deserving of an at-large. We know what we have to do.”
They have to play better than they did against UAB on Saturday.
Golden Eagle pitchers gave up 17 hits, the fielders committed three errors and the batters struck out six times. Every one of the six USM pitchers except reliever Sean Tweedy gave up at least one earned run. Starter Cody Carroll (2-2) took the loss.
“We have to put this week past us,” USM senior catcher Cole Donaldson said. “This is it. This is crunch time. It’s do or die at this point.”
Saturday’s game was Wallner’s third two-homer game this season and fifth of his Southern Miss career.
“I just tried to relax my hands, relax my body and see a pitch up,” he said. “Fortunately I got one and was able to get it to go.”
The one in the ninth inning traveled an estimated 430 feet.
“I don’t even think to look at them,” Wallner said. “I was just trying to touch first base. But yeah, I definitely squared that one up. It felt pretty good off the bat.”
He said he didn’t start thinking about breaking Maddox’s home run record until “this morning.”
Then he took a trip down memory lane.
“From my freshman year, I think I kind of belonged,” Wallner said. “That confidence kept me going through low points, like at the beginning of this year. That confidence has helped me through.”
Other games Wednesday in the C-USA Tournament will have Marshall (6) vs. Louisiana Tech (3) at 9 a.m., UTSA (8) vs. Florida Atlantic (1) at 4 p.m., and Old Dominion (5) vs. Western Kentucky (4) at 7:30.
Tickets to the Conference USA Tournament are on sale now and available by calling the MGM Park box office at 877-344-2174 or online at: https://overtimesportsbiloxi.com/product/2019-c-usa-tournament-pass/.
C-USA tournament pairings, schedule
Wednesday, May 22 (available on ESPN+)
Game 1 - (6) Marshall vs. (3) Louisiana Tech - 9 a.m.
Game 2 - (7) Rice vs. (2) Southern Miss - 12:30 p.m.
Game 3 - (8) UTSA vs. (1) Florida Atlantic - 4 p.m.
Game 4 - (5) Old Dominion vs. (4) WKU - 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 23 (available on ESPN+)
Game 5 - Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2 - 9 a.m.
Game 6 - Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4 - 12:30 p.m.
Game 7 - Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2 - 4 p.m.
Game 8 - Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4 - 7:30 p.m.
Friday, May 24 (available on ESPN+)
Game 9 - Winner Game 5 vs. Loser game 7 - 3 p.m.
Game 10 - Winner Game 6 vs. Loser game 8 - 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 25 (available on ESPN+)
Game 11 - Winner Game 7 vs. Winner game 9 - 9 a.m.
Game 12 - Winner Game 8 vs. Winner game 10 - 12:30 p.m.
Game 13 - Same teams as Game 11 - 4 p.m. (if necessary)
Game 14 - Same teams as Game 12 7:30p (if necessary)
Sunday, May 26 (televised by CBS Sports Network)
Championship Game, 1 pm