Southern Miss

Southern Miss sweeps MTSU, extends C-USA lead

Southern Miss coach Scott Berry
Southern Miss coach Scott Berry

HATTIESBURG -- Most of the time, the baseball team that gives up 19 hits will lose.

Most of the time, the team that trails by two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning will lose.

Most of the time, the team that gives up a grand slam will lose.

Most of the time, the winning run does not score on a wild pitch.

But those facts don't always hold true at Pete Taylor Park. Not for Conference USA's first-place team, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.

All that happened Sunday, yet USM walked off -- literally and figuratively -- with a 12-11 victory over Middle Tennessee State.

"What do they call that, 'Magic at The Pete?'" asked a smiling right fielder Dylan Burdeaux after Southern Miss completed a three-game Conference USA sweep of Middle Tennessee State.

Burdeaux certainly did his part in the victory with three hits, a walk and two RBIs, including the run-scoring hit that tied the game 11-11 in the ninth inning.

"It was a big win, a big come-from-behind win," Burdeaux said. "It was crazy, definitely crazy, but better to come out on top."

The win gives USM a 25-8 overall record and an 11-1 mark in Conference USA. The Eagles are now two games ahead of both Florida Atlantic and Rice in Conference USA.

And while the C-USA standings are of utmost importance, that was secondary when it came to how Southern Miss won Sunday's game.

The Golden Eagles led 5-2 after three innings, but the Blue Raiders cut it to 5-4 in the fourth inning and went ahead 9-5 in the top of the fourth when Austin Dennis' line drive to center field got past USM center fielder Jake Sandlin for an inside-the-park grand slam.

After seven, it was 11-8, MTSU, and looking good for the visitors. But it was not over.

"Coach told me, 'Hold them right here and keep us in it," said USM reliever Cody Livingston, who relieved Austin Millet, who relieved starter Kirk McCarty. "Keep us in striking distance."

USM got one run back in the eighth inning and then came the ninth-inning magic.

Michael Gilbert led off with a walk off Middle Tennessee reliever Cody Puckett. Then Claudio Rubiera walked. The Storme Cooper walked to load the bases. Then Nick Dawson walked to score Rubiera. Then Burdeaux singled to left field off another relief pitcher, Caleb Smith, to tie the game 11-11.

Then Smith threw a wild pitch and Cooper scored to give USM a 12-11 victory, a sweep of the series, and one of the biggest impromptu celebrations ever at Pete Taylor Park.

"I don't think that's ever happened (to me)," Cooper a freshman from Wentzville, Mo., said. "Maybe in Little League."

But it happened, and the 3,154 in attendance who had watched for 3 hours, 14 minutes, stayed at The Pete a little longer to celebrate and get autographs and photos of their Golden Eagles.

That was fine with Southern Miss coach Scott Berry.

"I'll take an ugly win over a pretty loss, I guarantee you," Berry said postgame. "I was very proud of the way our guys stayed the course and played the game all the way through. In the seventh inning, I went in there and told them, 'Hey, it's a challenge today, but I have all the confidence in the world of you guys. Keep grinding it out.' You don't win 25 games by being a fluke. There's some substance there to a team that believes it can win and you saw it today."

Burdeaux and Tim Lynch each had three hits, and Lynch had three RBIs, as did Dawson. Cooper had two of USM's 10 hits.

Brad Jarreau and Blake Benefield each had four hits and Riley Delgado and Dennis each three of the 19 hits by Middle Tennessee State (14-18), who stays in last place in Conference USA with a 2-10 record.

Jake Winston (4-0), who relieved Livingston in the ninth and got the last out, was the winning pitcher. Puckett (3-1) was the loser.

Then there was something special about that ninth inning.

"I've been here 16 years and have seen it several times," Berry said. "It's always nice when it shows up. Magic comes when you do things well, you earn it and you keep playing hard. Magic doesn't come when you let down, and they didn't."