HATTIESBURG - The Southern Miss baseball team claimed its first Conference USA tournament title since 2010 and Gulfport product Daniel Keating played a huge role in making sure that happened.
Keating was named the C-USA Tournament MVP on Sunday after providing a go-ahead RBI double in the fifth inning of the 3-2 win over Rice. He also paced the team with a total of six RBIs in the tournament.
Keating let out a celebratory yell when he was announced as the MVP before an elated home crowd.
"I'm lost for words," Keating said of the MVP win. "It's so exciting."
Following the win, Keating enjoyed the dog pile along with the rest of his teammates after catcher Chuckie Robinson made the final out of the game on a dramatic double-relay play from the outfield.
"I about had a heart attack," Keating said. "I think everybody in the dugout did. It was just a great job of getting it in. You couldn't have picked a more interesting, more exciting way to win it."
"I was on the very bottom (of the dog pile) and I think my head almost got crushed. It was all worth it."
Keating finished the tournament going 6-for-14 with a homer, four doubles and six RBIs.
After clipping Marshall 3-2 in the semifinal contest on Saturday, the USM lineup again struggled to get runs across on Sunday. USM's first run of the game came on a wild pitch in the fifth inning.
When Keating stepped to the plate with two out and and Tim Lynch standing on second, Keating provided the clutch hit that the Golden Eagles badly needed. He ripped an offering from Rice ace right-hander Jon Duplantier off the left field wall to bring home Lynch and send the crowd into a frenzy.
"Duplantier is a heck of a pitcher, one of the best in the nation," Keating said. "He keeps his slider down. It's hard to see out of his hand and he was dotting up that low fastball so that made it even harder. I was looking for something up and I knew he was going to come with a slider. I was looking for it up. I got just enough barrel on it."
Keating has raised his batting average about 40 points in the last month and is now batting .296 with five homers and 26 RBIs.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Keating was also USM's best man on the base paths during the tournament, successfully converting on 3-of-3 steals.
Keating received a loud ovation from the crowd of 3,593 when he was announced as the tournament's MVP, proof that he is fast becoming a fan favorite in Hattiesburg.
"The crowd was great all weekend," Keating said. "They showed awesome support. They were awesome the whole time."