BILOXI, Miss. – Southern Miss’ 11th-ranked baseball team came into Wednesday evening riding a 14-game winning streak and sporting the top seed in The First, A National Banking Association, Conference USA Championship at MGM Park.
UTSA tied a C-USA tourney record with seven doubles, including a record-tying three by shortstop C.J. Pickering, as the eighth-seeded Roadrunners defeated Southern Miss 9-2 in the opening round of the tournament.
UTSA (29-26) became just the fifth, eighth seed to win an opening round game in the C-USA postseason, though the event has occurred twice in the past three years.
Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said the Golden Eagles (44-13) will have little time to ponder the stunning turn of events if they expect to keep playing this week on the Gulf Coast.
“It’s baseball,” Berry said. “You’re going to have one of these games. You just hope it’s not going to happen at the wrong time.”
Southern Miss will play at 12:30 p.m. Thursday against the loser of Wednesday’s fourth and final game between fourth-seeded Charlotte and fifth-seeded Louisiana Tech.
The Roadrunners (29-26) savaged Southern Miss’ All-Conference pitcher Colt Smith (6-1) and reliever Trent Driver over the first four innings, when UTSA scored eight of its nine runs.
Smith was beat up for four runs (three earned) on seven hits in just 2 2/3 innings. Driver fared even worse, allowing four runs on three hits in an inning.
“He didn’t make the pitches like he needed to,” Berry said of Smith, who turned in his first clunker since assuming starting duties. “We rode that horse for a while. He gets a mulligan on that one. He competed.
“But hats off to UTSA. If (Smith) made a mistake, they hit it.”
UTSA scored eight of its nine runs over that stretch in support of UTSA starting left-hander Steven Dressler (4-4), who limited the Golden Eagles to two runs on eight hits over 7 2/3 innings.
Dressler walked five and struck out four, as Southern Miss hit into a pair of double plays to stifle potential rallies, including a two-on, no-out start to the Golden Eagles’ fifth inning that was ensnared in an unassisted force at third base before throwing to first to get the second out.
UTSA center fielder Kevin Markham doubled to right-center field on the first pitch of the game, and the Roadrunners never looked back.
Right fielder Jesse Baker drove in three runs with a solo home run (15th), a double and sacrifice fly. Markham and Pickering each finished with three hits, while Pickering and left fielder Trent Bowles each drove in two runs for the Roadrunners.
All-Conference utility player Taylor Braley launched his 15th home run of the season in the third inning for the Golden Eagles, a smash to left-center field that cleared the outfield netting and two-hopped a pharmacy across the street.
Freshman of the Year Matt Wallner, shortstop LeeMarcus Boyd and catcher Cole Donaldson combined for six of the Golden Eagles’ eight hits with two hits apiece.