Lady Eagles Upset No. 21 South Alabama

Lady Eagles Upset No. 21 South Alabama

Sarah Evans reaches first on an error, giving the Lady Eagles runners on first and second at the game Wednesday night. They defeat the Lady Jaguars 1-0 and improve their overall record to 18-28. – Kara Davidson/Printz

Southern Miss hosted No. 21 South Alabama (32-8) Wednesday night, defeating the Lady Jaguars 1-0 and improving their overall record to 18-28. The win was just the third victory for the Lady Eagles in their last 24 games.

South Alabama came into this game on an 11-game win streak, sweeping three conference opponents and notching two non-conference wins over Nicholls State and Mississippi State. USM entered the game after losing a hard-fought series to MTSU at home. Despite the loss, the Lady Eagles’ bats were hot, highlighted by Cleary’s two home runs and McKeever going 5-for-10.

Southern Miss hoped to keep the fiery offense alive in Wednesday’s matchup with USA. The two teams faced off earlier in the season March 18 in Mobile, Alabama, where the Lady Jaguars defeated USM 9-1 in six innings.

USM’s defense was put to the test in the first inning. Leadoff hitter for the Lady Jaguars, Emily Messer, reached first base on a fielding error by USM’s third baseman. It was not the start Southern Miss wanted, but pitcher Danielle Block was able to force a fielder’s choice groundout, a fly-out and a strikeout to end the inning.

With two outs in the bottom of the first, Katie Cleary kept her bat hot, singling through the right side on a 1-1 pitch from Kalen McGill. Sarah Evans then reached first on an error, giving the Lady Eagles runners on first and second. The threat ended with a Mallory Hayden groundout, but the Lady Eagles proved they came to play against nationally ranked South Alabama.

A pitcher’s duel was underway as sophomore Danielle Block was holding her own against a strong hitting Lady Jaguar team. By the fourth inning, Block accumulated four strikeouts and only gave up two hits.

In the bottom of the fourth, Cleary singled up the middle on the first pitch she saw for her second hit of the evening, but was lifted for pinch-runner Peyton Garner. Evans did her job by laying down a sacrifice bunt, advancing Garner to second base. Hayden then knocked a single to right center field, sending Garner home to put the Lady Eagles on the board first, 1-0.

The Lady Jaguars got out of the inning on a groundout double play, looking to carry that momentum to the plate.

Block continued to deal on the mound for Southern Miss, tossing out Gwen Jones at first base on a leadoff bunt attempt, forcing a groundout and snagging a line drive to end the inning and any momentum South Alabama had.

South Alabama brought in Farish Beard to relieve McGill on the mound in the bottom of the sixth inning. Beard is one of the Lady Jaguars’ most reliable and experienced pitchers and was also a top-25 finalist for USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award in 2014.

Beard walked the first batter she faced, Selena Estrada, who went deep into the count. With two outs, Hayden was hit by a pitch and Estrada advanced into scoring position at second base. Jordan Beck was called on to pinch-hit and drilled a  hard ground ball to the left side, but Estrada was thrown out at third base to end the rally.

The Lady Eagles needed just three outs to defeat USA and earn their most impressive win of the season by far. Block walked back-to-back batters, throwing eight straight balls.

Head coach Wendy Hogue chose not to pull Block, which paid off in a huge way. Block battled her way back, striking out Taylor Bahos for the first out. Emily Messer hit a line drive to Michelle Stringer who doubled off the runner at first base to end the game.

USM won 1-0 with five total hits and held the Lady Jaguars to just two. The Lady Eagles committed three errors, but their execution on offense and timely hitting made the difference.

Block was stellar on the mound, pitching all seven innings with six strikeouts and only gave up two hits and two walks.  Block picked up her team-high sixth win and lowered her already team-high ERA among regular starters.

The Lady Eagles will travel to take on UAB this weekend for a three-game series, looking to carry their momentum and pick up their first series win in conference play.

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