HATTIESBURG - Gulfport's Daniel Keating came through with a career day in a crucial contest for Southern Miss on Wednesday.
Keating hit a three-run home run in the first and finished with a career-high five RBIs as USM won 17-5 over Old Dominion in seven innings on the first day of the Conference USA baseball tournament.
The sophomore's three-run bomb in the first inning was a no-doubter just to the right of the scoreboard in left field, helping spring the Eagles to a huge day at the plate at Pete Taylor Park.
USM (37-18) managed to get back on track after taking a deflating sweep in the final weekend of the regular season at FIU.
"We did a great job tonight coming out, making a statement," Keating said. "We had a rough series at FIU. We didn't play our best. We brushed it off. It's good to get that behind us."
Keating's homer was his fifth of the season, giving USM a 4-0 lead in the first inning. He finished 2-for-3 at the plate with a pair of runs scored.
"That was a fastball. It was pretty fat, right down the middle of the plate," Keating said of his homer. "We're seeing the ball really well. We went out and played relaxed at the plate. We took good cuts at good pitches and didn't try to do too much. We just trusted the next guy."
USM will play the winner of Wednesday night's FIU-Marshall game at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. If the Golden Eagles win that contest, they will receive a bye on Friday and advance to Saturday's 12:30 p.m. semifinal contest.
Sophomore left-hander Kirk McCarty (6-1, 3.27) will be the starting pitcher for USM on Thursday.
The man who put the game to bed was USM senior first baseman Tim Lynch, who hit a grand slam with one out in the bottom of the fifth for a 12-5 lead. Lynch's homer sparked USM's biggest offensive output in one inning this season with the Eagles putting eight across to extend the lead to 16-5.
Lynch finished 2-of-3 with four RBIs.
USM senior center fielder Jake Sandlin, who was 2-for-4 with three runs scored, added a solo homer to lead off the bottom of the sixth to set the final score.
Senior right-hander Jake Winston saved the day for Southern Miss out of the bullpen after senior starting pitcher Cord Cockrell failed to make it out of the second inning.
Winston entered the game with two out in the second after ODU put up five runs on homers by Kyle Beam and Zach Rutherford off Cockrell to take a 5-4 lead. Winston responded with four scoreless innings out of the bullpen. He gave up only one hit, struck out three and walked two.
Winston's final stats were impressive, but he admitted he didn't feel his best on the mound.
"I didn't hit one spot," Winston said "If (catcher Chuckie Robinson) called it outside, I threw it inside. My breaking ball was pretty bad too. I made pitches when it counted, I guess."
Cockrell missed time late in the season with a sore shoulder and he didn't appear to be 100 percent Wednesday.
"It's really unfortunate what's happening with Cord right now," Winston said. "We don't really know what's going on. Tonight, I'm guessing he didn't feel his best. He was battling his but off, giving everything he's got. The past three outings, I've just been kind of ready. The first couple of innings, I just tried to stay within myself."
USM senior second baseman Chase Scott, who was 2-for-2 at the plate, left the game in the fifth inning after he was struck in the face by a pitch from ODU freshman right-hander Brett Smith. Scott immediately fell to the ground, but he was able to walk off the field under his own power. Berry said that Scott was sore and that he would be re-evaluated in the morning.
ODU starting pitcher Victor Diaz (6-4), took the loss after giving up six runs on eight hits in 1 1/3 innings. ODU (32-23) will play the loser of Marshall-FIU at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday.