Southern Miss advances to C-USA title
HATTIESBURG -- With a nasty bruise below his right eye and a chip still on his shoulder from last year's postseason snub, Southern Miss senior Chase Scott took out his frustrations on the left field wall at Pete Taylor Park on Saturday.
Scott, who missed Thursday's 9-3 win over Marshall after taking a fastball to the right cheek the night before, stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and ripped the first pitch he saw over the left fielder's head for a two-out, three-run double in the top of the first.
Those three runs proved to be all USM needed in a 3-2 win over Marshall as the Golden Eagles clinched a spot in Sunday's 1 p.m. Conference USA title game against Rice.
The Golden Eagles are sure to end their four-year postseason drought, but a win on Sunday significantly improves their chances of hosting an NCAA regional for the first time since 2003.
"It's amazing," Scott said of getting a shot at a tournament title. "Last year, we ended up snubbed after we felt we had to make it to the championship game to get to a regional. This year, hopefully it will work out in our favor. If we take care of business hopefully we'll be able to host a regional."
USM (39-18) is in a good position headed into Sunday's title game as the lone undefeated team remaining. Louisiana Tech beat Rice 13-10 Saturday morning to force a Saturday night game to decide USM's opponent in the title contest.
After USM had scored a total of 26 runs in its first two games, it had to rely on pitching and defense to win Saturday's contest against a Marshall team desperate for a win to improve its postseason odds.
The biggest moment on defense for USM came in the seventh inning when Marshall third baseman Tyler Ratliff stepped to the plate against USM senior reliever Jake Winston with runners on first and third and one out.
Ratliff managed to hit a grounder up the middle that USM shortstop Nick Dawson had to charge, glove and make an awkward throw backwards to Scott at second base, who made a nice turn for the double play.
"Thank goodness he got to it," Winston said. "When Nick short-hopped it, got it and flipped back to (Scott), I knew we had it at first just because of the runner we had. That was a huge play. That was awesome."
That double play was one of a handful of instances where USM managed to work its way out of jams.
Marshall (34-21) sent batters to the plate with a runner on third and less than two out on four different instances. The Herd finished 0-for-4 in those situations.
Marshall out-hit the Eagles 13-7, but stranded 13 runners.
USM head coach Scott Berry used five different pitchers Saturday, including freshman starter Walker Powell, and all five did their jobs.
"I'm real proud of our guys," Berry said. "We had to really show up on the pitching side and the defensive side. I wouldn't have thought three runs in the first inning would be enough to win the game, but it was with the arms we threw out there."
Freshman left-hander Stevie Powers (1-1) picked up the first win of his career by tossing two scoreless innings in relief of Powell. Powers entered the game with none out and men on first and third in the fourth inning. He retired the three men he faced in the inning to get out of trouble and got six of the seven men he faced overall.
Winston replaced Powers in the third and threw 2 2/3 solid innings, giving up one run on three hits.
The senior right-hander admitted he was wound up when he entered the game with a man on and none in the sixth.
"I actually thought I was throwing to two batters so I came in guns hot a little bit," Winston said. "(Pitching coach Mike Federico) asked me if I was ready to go and that fired me up even more. The adrenaline was definitely pumping. The crowd had a lot to do with it. We couldn't even hear ourselves talk in the dugout. It was pretty cool."
The third freshman to pitch in the game, closer Nick Sandlin, finished the game with his 11th save of the season.
Berry wasn't ready to announce a starting pitcher for Sunday's title game on Saturday, but he does have multiple options. That puts USM in a better position that Louisiana Tech and Rice, who both wasted a lot of pitching in their two games Saturday.
"I think we've got guys that are going to step up for us," Berry said. "We'll talk tonight about that and decide who we feel like we need to throw tomorrow. It may not be just one guy. Who knows? A new star is born every day."