TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Ryne Long had to wait two hours between pitches in the fifth inning due to a rain delay, but that didn't prevent the East Central product from delivering a determined performance Sunday to keep South Alabama alive in the Tallahassee Regional.
South Alabama (42-21) rallied to top Southern Miss 7-5 Sunday to advance to the title round of the NCAA Regional, ending the Golden Eagles' season. Following the win, USA advanced to play Florida State Sunday night, but eventually lost to the Seminoles 18-6.
Long (4-0) retired 12 consecutive batters entering the ninth inning and limited USM to two runs on three hits in 4 2/3 innings out of the bullpen to pick up the victory.
While USM made a pitching change with Stevie Powers replacing starter Hayden Roberts after the delay, USA coach Mark Calvi didn't hesitate to put Long back on the mound.
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"It was an easy decision for me. Look at this guy," Calvi said as he glanced at his burly right-hander. "He gets after it. It was an easy decision for me. He's been in the trenches for this program for two years."
Calvi joked that Long downed four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as he waited for his chance to retake the mound in the fifth with men on first and second and none out.
"I just tried to stay loose," Long said. "It was longer than we thought. To begin with, they told us 30 minutes. It ended up being al
most two hours. Once the delay got there, I took it as I was starting a game. It was a whole new game and I tried to have a different mindset because I wasn't very good before the delay. I just tried to go out there, fill up the zone and make things happen for the guys. I knew we weren't going to stop and our hitters bailed us out today."
Long hit the first guy he faced after the rain delay, Chase Scott, to load the bases with none out, but held USM (41-20) to one run in the inning, putting a halt to the Eagles momentum and beginning his strong close to the game.
As for what it meant to come through as a senior from Mississippi against one of the program's top non-conference rivals, Long shrugged it off.
"That never even crossed my mind," said Long, who is the son of East Central athletic director Gary Long, a former baseball coach for the Hornets. "All I'm worried about is the next one. We turn around and we're still fighting for our lives in the next game."
After USM scored 11 runs in the sixth inning of a 14-2 win over South Alabama on Friday, it was USA who did the damage in the sixth on Sunday.
USA erased a 4-0 lead for Southern Miss in the sixth with a six-run rally on six hits and four walks issued by USM pitchers.
It was Cole Billingley's two-run single through the right side of the infield that gave South Alabama the lead for good at 5-4 with two out in the inning. Two batters later, USM reliever Nick Sandlin walked Danny Martinez with the bases loaded to make it 6-4.
"I thought we showed a lot of patience there," Calvi said. "We put some good at-bats together. We took some strikes because swinging wasn't really working for us. It really wasn't. We had some good fortune. We have certain things in our offense that let us take and swing. That's what we were doing. We were taking some pitches and we'd turn someone loose on the first pitch if he liked it. It worked out for us today."
USM ran out of healthy pitching after the opening game of the Tallahassee Regional and a handful of pitchers who took the mound this weekend weren't close to 100 percent.
"You've got Nick Sandlin out there pitching, he can't even look right or left. His neck is locked up," USM coach Scott Berry said. "We dealt with that the last two weeks of the regular season and he re-injured it in the championship in the dog pile. I knew when he walked the first two guys, that's not Nick. I knew we were in trouble with him right there. Hats off to him and what he was trying to do and gut that thing out. He gave us everything he could. Yeah, he were running thin (on pitching options)."
USM used six pitchers in the game and walked a total of nine batters.
Nick Dawson and Jake Sandlin both doubled to start the ninth inning to put men on second and third for USM with one out, forcing Long for the game.
USA lefty Shane McKinley entered the game and held USM to one run in the ninth, earning his ninth save of the season.
Jake Sandlin was 2-for-3 for USM with a solo homer, a double and three runs scored. Dawson was 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. Daniel Keating and Tim Lynch both finished 2-for-4.
USM senior Jake Winston, who gave up two runs in 1/3 innings out of the bullpen, took the loss to put his record at 7-2. Roberts, a junior right-hander, was strong again in the starter's role for USM, giving up no runs and only one hit in four innings.
Brendan Donovan was the lone USA batter with multiple hits, going 2-for-4 with a run scored.
Berry praised his squad for getting his program back in the postseason for the first time since 2011.
"I'm so proud of our club and how we competed all year long," Berry said. "We won the (Conference USA Tournament), got back to a regional, where we belong. We've been absent four years and these guys worked hard to get back to where we are."