BILOXI – For the second year in a row, Southern Miss is forced to play Charlotte in a semifinal elimination game after the 49ers won 7-4 with a three-run walk-off home run.
“Hats off to Charlotte their backs were against the wall just like we were last year,” head coach Scott Berry said. “It’s kind of funny [Taylor] Braley did the same thing to them to force the second game last year and their guy did to us tonight. I’m anxious to get back out here in the morning.”
Southern Miss’ hitting continued to lag after they left 14 runners on base while putting up nine hits. This stat has plagued Southern Miss throughout the tournament. As of now, the total of base runners left on base stands at 27 runners left on base in the tournament.
The trend started early in the first inning as Charlotte walked the bases loaded. However, Southern Miss only came away with one run, which Charlotte walked in.
Southern Miss took a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning as Matthew Guidry hit an RBI single.
Charlotte tied the game at 2-2 with a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning and an infield single in the fifth inning.
With a tied ball game at 2-2 in the sixth inning, Gabe Montenegro hit an RBI triple and then stole home plate on a passed ball and helped Southern Miss retake the lead, 4-2.
Charlotte then tacked on one more run in the seventh inning to make the game 4-3 heading into the ninth inning.
Starting pitcher Walker Powell followed the trend of Nick Sandlin and Stevie Powers and put together a solid outing. Powell threw seven innings and allowed three runs on eight hits and struck out five. However, another lingering issue followed Southern Miss, which was the weak bullpen performance.
“I thought Walker kind of gutted it out for us,” Berry said. “I didn’t think he had really great stuff. They were able to scratch those single runs and minimize some things but at the end of the day we didn’t do enough to win a baseball game and Charlotte did.”
Both issues came together in the ninth inning as base runners left on base lingered for Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles missed on the opportunity to score insurance runs after not capitalizing on having runners at first and third base with no outs.
J.C. Keys stepped in relief and pitched a quick eighth inning, but he fell in trouble in the ninth inning as he allowed a leadoff single and then two wild pitches to put the tying run at third base. Keys then allowed the tying run to score on a fielder’s choice and then also gave up another single. Matt Wallner came in to relieve Keys, but Charlotte hit the walk-off home run on his second pitch.
“We missed on those opportunities to really extend the lead,” Berry said. “You’ve got one team that’s riding the high of emotion and another team that is disappointed but tomorrow is a new opportunity for both of us. So you wipe the slate clean with the chance to try and get to the conference championship game that follows.”
Southern Miss will play Charlotte at 9 p.m. tomorrow. If Southern Miss wins that game, it will play the winner of the Rice-Florida Atlantic game in the championship game of the tournament, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. but is subject to change.