Southern Miss junior Tracy Hadley didn't hesitate to take off for second when he saw the Rice left fielder slip while fielding his hard-hit liner in the Conference USA title game on Sunday.
"I thought I had it easy, but he makes a perfect throw," the Pascagoula native said Tuesday, recalling the moment. "Once I saw the ball, I had to find a way to get on second."
To the amazement of the fans in attendance and the displeasure of the Rice dugout, Hadley did find a way around the tag of Rice second baseman Grayson Lewis.
"I was getting ready to slide and it looked like I'd be out by a mile," Hadley said. "I slid directly into him and as he went to put the tag on me, I reached my right side back and grabbed the bag with my left hand."
He was called safe and Lewis immediately argued his case to the umpire while Hadley pumped his first toward the Southern Miss dugout. Hadley's hustle Sunday was just one instance of many more examples of the Golden Eagles going the extra mile to put the program back in the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Hadley and his teammates claimed the C-USA Tournament trophy on Sunday with a 3-2 win over Rice, triggering a dog pile on the pitcher's mound after a dramatic, game-ending play at the plate with USM catcher Chuckie Robinson successfully making the tag.
"It's been fun," Hadley said. "I've never experienced anything to this degree. We won a state championship (in Class 5A at Pascagoula High School in 2012), but nothing like this at the college level. It's a hard grind. The degree of difficulty is way higher."
Southern Miss (40-18) will play South Alabama (40-20) at 11 a.m. Friday in the first game of the NCAA Tournament's Tallahassee (Fla.) Regional.
Hadley, who began the season as USM's starting shortstop, has settled in as the team's third baseman after sophomore power-hitter Taylor Braley went down with a season-ending knee injury in early April.
Hadley has had his own battle with injuries this season, but he's proven strong at third base late in the season despite not playing the position since he was a little leaguer.
"I think he's played well," USM coach Scott Berry said. "I think he really has played well defensively. He's got some big hits for us, being able to come up with doubles and triples."
Hadley flashed some impressive leather on one play in last week's 9-3 win over Marshall when he snagged a hot grounder to his right right and made an off-balance, one-hop throw to first base for the out.
It was one of several defensive highlights for the Eagles in the C-USA Tournament.
"That was Jesus," Hadley said with a slight laugh. "You work on stuff like that, take ground balls and do certain stuff to prepare yourself. You're not going to get it every time. It took a real hard hop, but I kept my eye on it. I was lucky to make a good throw. Thank God. I was blessed."
The former basketball star at Pascagoula is batting .261 with a homer and 13 RBIs in his first season at USM after transferring from Pearl River Community College. He isn't hitting at the hot clip he showed early in the season, but he's managed to make an impact at the plate for the Eagles.
"I'm just trying to have productive at-bats and finding a way to get on," Hadley said. "That's the rhythm on the team. Everybody in the lineup can hit. I started off hot, but the last two months haven't gone as well. Like my dad said, that's life in general. Things aren't always going to go your way. It's how you respond. I'm not getting the hits like I normally do, but I've somehow got to find a way to get on base."