BILOXI – In the 24 hours between Southern Miss’ walk-off win over Rice Wednesday and first pitch against Marshall Thursday, the Southern Miss bats didn’t cool down in the South Mississippi heat.
Things got a little hairy, though, but Southern Miss led from start to finish in the 10-5 win over the Thundering Herd. The win put the Golden Eagles in Conference USA Tournament semifinals, which means the winner of Marshall-Rice Friday will have to beat them twice Saturday. If Southern Miss wins Saturday’s 9 a.m. contest, it’ll play for another tournament championship Sunday.
“We really talked about trying to pick up where we left off (Wednesday) night,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “We had a lot of momentum leaving this field with Wallner leaving the yard, and we wanted to keep that feeling going.”
An evening after struggling a little on offense, the Golden Eagles’ bats produced 16 hits and scored in six of the nine innings to run away from Marshall. The Thundering Herd did cut the lead to two in the eighth, but a combination of Hunter Stanley’s relief efforts and a three-run home run by Gabe Montenegro in the ninth put the game away.
“I know (Marshall) felt good being two runs down going into the bottom of the ninth, even with Stanley on the mound,” Berry said. “Montenegro put a good swing on it and that kind of took the air out.”
Stanley entered a 7-3 game with the bases loaded and no outs in the eight, then quickly gave up a two-RBI, one-out single to cut the Southern Miss lead to 7-5. That was his only mistake, though, because he got Marshall’s three- and four-hole hitters to foul out and strike out, respectively.
“You just have to take it one pitch at a time,” Stanley said. “You can’t let the moment get too big. You have to stay within yourself, stay poised, and just have that fire mentality where it’s just you and the hitter and you have to beat him.
The junior did hit a batter in the ninth, but he easily closed out the game with a strikeout and two fly outs. Stanley struck out three in his two innings, and he only allowed the one hit. The two runs that scored off that lone hit were not charged to him.
At the plate, nine Marshall pitchers couldn’t slow down the Southern Miss offense. It started the game with four straight hits, which included a two-run shot off the bat of Matthew Guidry.
“Guidry with the two-run homer, and just the hits after that, I think sent the message that we were keeping it going from (Wednesday) night,” Berry said.
The Golden Eagles proceeded to score two runs in the fourth, single runs in the fifth and sixth and another run in the eighth before Montenegro’s ninth-inning blast. Marshall plated three runs in the fourth to bring the Southern Miss lead down to 4-3, but it never could tie the game.
Now Southern Miss gets a much-needed day off Friday. It has used five relief pitchers in the two tournament games so far, so when the Golden Eagles hit the field Saturday morning, they’ll be in good shape pitching wise.
After all, Southern Miss is playing for something more than just the conference championship.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Stanley said. “It’s no secret. Everybody knows that. We didn’t really end where we wanted to be, but this program has tradition of winning this tournament and that’s what we’re going to set out to do.”