HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) _ For certain, baseball teams practice turning the double play, the pitcher covering first on chopper to right side of the infield, hitting the cutoff man after digging a ball out of the left-center field gap.
But it’s doubtful that teams practice how to win, as if some sort of coaching manual could offer a step-by-step process to secure victory while staring defeat flat in the face.
Hang around long enough at a place called Pete Taylor Park, though, and one might be convinced that’s exactly what the University of Southern Mississippi does, no matter the roster, no matter the season.
Take Friday evening in the 2019 season opener with Purdue University. The Golden Eagles lead the Boilermakers 4-2 after six innings, thanks to Hunter Slater’s and USM’s first home run of the 2019 season in the bottom of the sixth.
Purdue bowed up and slashed back, scoring two runs in each of the next two innings to turn the Golden Eagles’ two-run advantage into a two-run Boliermarker lead and USM down to its last six outs.
But just as it has happened seemingly so many times over so many years, it happened again Saturday evening, a little Pete Taylor magic.
Brant Blaylock’s pinch-hit home run on a full count with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning pulled USM within a run
Fred Franklin scored from second base with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning when Purdue center fielder Skyler Hunter dropped Slater’s slicing fly ball to tie the game.
Blaylock singled to lead off the 10th inning, moved to second on an error by first baseman Cole McKenzie and reached third base on a flyout to right field before coming home on Matthew Guidry’s first career walkoff hit, a single scorched through the right side that gave the Golden Eagles a 7-6 victory.
“It’s not a team-to-team kind of thing, but more of a culture here,” Guidry said. “Pete Taylor magic. We’ve talked about it all offseason, trying to get our fans to buy into it, and they do. It really plays a huge role.
“It’s always fun to play at home, regardless of what the score is in the ninth inning because you always feel you have a chance. That’s the culture we’ve built here.”
It may not have been a classic ballgame, with first-game jitters and rainy, slick conditions perhaps leading to five errors between the teams making six of the game’s 13 runs unearned.
Three of the errors were charged to pitchers trying to pick off a runner at first base. All three errors went for two bases, putting the runner at third. Each runner scored, providing two of Purdue’s runs and one of USM’s.
The other two errors, both Purdue’s, led to USM’s tying and game-winning run unearned.
“Thought both teams competed really well, and rightfully so, being the home opener for us and the season opener for both teams,” USM baseball coach Scott Berry said. “Two fundamentally-sound teams that I thought played well.
“Errors factored into some of those runs,, obviously, but that’s part of it, with field conditions playing into that. But overall, very pleased with our guys.”
USM (1-0) used four pitchers, including starting right-hander Walker Powell, who went four innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits.
Mason Strickland (1-0) up the win in relief, allowing two hits and a walk over the final 2 1/3 innings.
All in all, Purdue raked the USM staff for 13 hits, with six coming in 3 1/3 innings off USM relievers Josh Lewis and Ryan Och.
Infielder Owen Jansen went 4-for-4 with a walk, scored a run and drove in one for Purdue (0-1). Designated hitter Charlie Nasuti, catcher Zac Fascia and first baseman Cole McKenzie each had two hits, while outfielder Ben Nisle drove in a pair of runs.
USM picked up 10 hits, including two apiece by Slater and Blaylock. Slater drove in a pair of runs.
Austin Peterson (0-1), the Boilermakers’ sixth pitcher, took the loss, allowing a run on two hits in 2/3 inning.
The teams are scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Saturday in the second game of three-game series. Senior left-hander Stevie Powers will take the mound for USM with Purdue countering with senior left-hander Ryan Beard.