Southern Miss

‘A little bit too much for us.’ LSU halts USM’s momentum, earns Super Regional bid.

After coming up with a pair of walk-off wins and a no-hitter over the last two weeks, Southern Miss couldn’t quite keep the momentum rolling against LSU in the Baton Rouge Regional.

LSU (40-24) topped USM 6-4 Sunday night to clinch the right to host Florida State in a Super Regional at Alex Box Stadium.

The Golden Eagles (40-21) came up shy of their Super Regional goal, but they put in a commendable performance in Baton Rouge over the course of three days.

Southern Miss surged into Sunday night’s game on the momentum of a seven-run rally over the final two innings to take down Arizona State 13-12 in a Sunday afternoon elimination contest on a walk-off two-RBI single by Gabe Montenegro in the bottom of the ninth. In the regional opener, USM thrashed Arizona State 15-3.

In its two wins in Baton Rouge, USM put up a total of 28 runs to outscore an ASU team that led the nation in home runs with 92 to begin the regional.

The runs didn’t come near as easily against a well-rested LSU pitching staff that benefited from an 8-4 win over the Golden Eagles on Saturday night.

If USM had managed to pull off the victory over LSU Sunday night, they would have had to win one more game over the Tigers on Monday to advance.

“Disappointed that we lost the game,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “We had opportunities to hold the lead and chip back into it, but LSU was a little bit too much for us. I can’t thank our guys enough for the effort that they gave coming off a long first game to come out here.”

Junior shortstop Josh Smith had a big game in the leadoff role for LSU, taking the first pitch in the bottom of the first over the right field wall to give the Tigers an early 1-0 lead. In the second inning, he went the other direction for a two-out triple to bring home a pair of runs and push the lead to 3-0.

Smith finished 3-of-4 with three RBIs and one run scored.

USM junior left-hander Josh Lewis delivered as much as Berry could have asked for after making only one previous start this season, a two-inning outing against Southern on March 6.

On Sunday night, he lasted a solid six innings. He gave up five runs on eight hits, striking out one and walking four.

“(The coaching staff) just told me they wanted me to come out there and compete,” Lewis said. “They wanted to ride me as long as they could. It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for. I’m glad I could come out there and give us a chance. It didn’t come out like we wanted it to, but our team competed today. It said a lot about us. There’s a lot to bring to the table next year and we’re looking forward to it.”

With runners on second and third and none out in the seventh inning, senior right-hander Jarod Wright entered to replace Lewis with USM leading 4-3. Wright lasted only four pitches and two batters, giving up a two-run single to Zach Watson and an RBI double to Saul Garza to make it 6-4 in LSU’s favor.

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USM senior lefty Adam Jackson replaced Wright and looked strong, holding LSU scoreless for the remainder of the game.

USM appeared in position to cut into the LSU lead in the eighth when Hunter Slater came up with a leadoff single and the next man up, Matt Wallner, walked.

LSU reliever Devin Fontenot responded by retiring the next three men and closing out his seventh save of the season in the ninth.

Montenegro had a huge day at the plate for USM, finishing 7-of-9 with a homer and three RBIs in the two games. His solo home run to start the fourth was USM’s first hit of the game off LSU starter Eric Walker.

“I was seeing it pretty well,” Montenegro said. “I was just trying to get up there and get on base and trust the other guys behind me to get the job done. That was my approach all week.”

LSU right fielder Antoine Duplantis singled in the first inning to set the program’s career hits mark and he added another hit later in game to push his total to 354.

While Wallner will probably be a high selection in this week’s MLB Draft and seems likely to sign, the other Golden Eagles with remaining eligibility have to leave Baton Rouge with confidence knowing how they performed over the last two weeks with a C-USA tournament title and a pair of wins in Baton Rouge.

“Hopefully they continue to have this taste in their mouth about what it’s about to get to the postseason,” Berry said. “We’re still looking to take that step forward. It’s been since ‘09 since we moved to a Super Regional. We’ve been to a lot of regionals, but we need to take that step into a super. Hopefully these guys coming back understand that and how close we are and the work that we’ve got to be able to do.”

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.