HATTIESBURG – With one swing of UIC catcher Rob Calabrese’s bat in the top of the fifth inning Friday afternoon, Southern Miss found itself staring at a five-run deficit just about halfway through their opening-round game of the Hattiesburg Regional. Perfect.
As they have so often this baseball season, the Golden Eagles came from behind, rallying for seven runs in the fifth and sixth innings and then holding on for an 8-7 victory before 4,239 at Taylor Park.
Matthew Guidry came off the bench to drive in three runs and top-seeded Southern Miss (49-14) took advantage of three errors by the top fielding team in Division I collegiate baseball to snuff the fourth-seeded Flames (39-16) in the end.
“It’s one thing to be able to do this at the beginning of the season, not that those games aren’t important, but it’s another to be able to do this now,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “Neither club played particularly well, but at the end of the day it is about winning.
“You certainly take an ugly win over a pretty loss, and that’s what it was (Friday). I’m proud of our guys coming back from being down 6-1. When we went up 8-6 we were able to keep that momentum.”
Nick Sandlin got the last out in the seventh inning, and then finished off the Flames in the final two. In all three innings, UIC at least had a runner at third base, and in the ninth, Sandlin loaded the bases before getting a force out at second base to end the game and pick up his eighth save of the season.
“It’s what we’ve done all year, persevered,” Berry said. “This team, they just grind it out.”
Southern Miss will meet the winner of Friday’s second game between second-seeded Mississippi State University and third-seeded University of South Alabama at 6 p.m. Saturday.
The fourth-seeded Flames will play a 1 p.m. elimination game Saturday against the Mississippi State-South Alabama loser.
Hayden Roberts (5-2) came out of the bullpen to replace starter Kirk McCarty and pick up the win with 1 2/3 innings relief.
Roberts also had one of the defensive plays of the game, scooping a bunt in front of the mound and flipping it from his mitt to catcher Cole Donaldson to get Mickey McDonald sliding in from third base.
“It’s something that we always practice,” said Roberts, who allowed one run on two hits with three strikeouts. “As soon as I got it out of my glove, I knew I had gotten it there in time, and then it was a matter of whether Cole was going to be able to catch it.”
Charlie Cerny (0-2), the third of four UIC pitchers, took the loss, allowing four runs in 2/3 of an inning, though only one was earned.
In fact, half of USM’s eight runs were unearned because of errors by the Flames.
“We made some defensive mistakes we haven’t all year,” UIC coach Mike Dee said. “We hadn’t made three errors [in a game] in a month.”
UIC, which won both Horizon League regular-season and tournament championships, scored off McCarty in the third inning on Thomas Norton’s triple and a grounder to second by David Cronin.
Southern Miss tied the game 1-1 in the third when Dylan Burdeaux walked, reached second on a chopper, stole third and scored on Calabrese’s off-line throw trying to get him at the bag.
UIC took a 2-1 lead in the fourth when Scott Ota doubled to left and scored on a two-out flare to right field by Bowen Ogata.
McCarty, who struck out five in 4 1/3 innings to become the first Golden Eagles with 100 strikeouts in a season since Shea Douglas in 2002, started the fifth inning by getting a Norton fly out.
But McCarty issued back-to-back walks to Mickey McDonald and Cronin on nine pitches, then hit Cody Bohanek with a pitch to load the bases.
McCarty had Calabrese down 0-2 in the count before the Flames catcher ripped a no-doubter over the wall in the corner of left field to put UIC up 6-1.
“I just tried to shorten up and get a pitch out over the plate,” Calabrese said. “I got a slider and tried to get some good contact. Basically our approach was `middle, away’ and try to fight stuff in, and he just left it over the plate.”
Southern Miss got one-out, back-to-back singles by Mason Irby and Taylor Braley off Illinois-Chicago ace Jake Dahlberg, who got Wallner to fly out to deep right field for the second out.
But that was the last batter for Dahlberg, who only allowed three hits, but tied a career-high with six walks before he was lifted after throwing 90 pitches.
Guidry pinch hit and greeted right-handed reliever Mitchell Schulewitz with a two-run triple to left-center field, scoring Irby and Braley, and Tracy Hadley followed with a single to cut UIC lead to 6-4.
Donaldson doubled to lead off the sixth, and scored when Cerny threw away a LeeMarcus Boyd bunt at first base. After being sacrificed over to third base, Boyd scored to tie the game when Cody Bohanek mishandled Mason Irby’s bunt.
After Wallner walked, Guidry singled to center to score Irby with the go-ahead run and send Wallner to third. Moments later, Wallner made it 8-6 when he scored on a wild pitch.
UIC got one run back in the seventh inning, when Ota tripled and scored on Brandon Gibis’ grounder. The Flames outhit Southern Miss eight to seven, with Ota smashing a pair of doubles and a triple, and Thomas two singles.