Courtesy of Southern Miss Athletics
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- When Southern Miss most needed someone to step up on the pitcher’s mound, Cameron Giannini delivered.
In what very well could have been his final collegiate appearance, the senior right-hander came up with the performance of his career, tossing his first complete game in a 3-1 victory over East Carolina University in a Friday night elimination game in the 2014 Conference USA Baseball Tournament.
“What a performance,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “Thirty-one years of baseball, I’ve seen some really good ones, but the situation that we were under (Friday), losing it and we’re done, for that senior to go out and do what he did against a very good East Carolina team, who has a lot of pop in that lineup, I can’t say enough for what he did.”
The win sent third-seeded USM (34-24) into a 12:30 p.m. Saturday showdown at Taylor Park with seventh-seeded University of Texas-San Antonio (34-24). The Golden Eagles would have to beat the Roadrunners twice Saturday to advance to Sunday’s 1 p.m. championship game.
“We know we’ve got one important game, but to get the championship, and everybody has got to be hands on for that,” Berry said. “And that’s another thing that doesn’t need to go unnoticed (in Giannini’s performance), because he really helped us in that bullpen.”
USM knocked the sixth-seeded Pirates (33-26) from the tournament in avenging an opening round, 9-8 loss in 11 innings in what was likely the last baseball game between the long-time rivals with ECU bound for the American Athletic Conference next year.
In its loss to ECU, the Golden Eagles committed a season-high six errors. In its two, tournament wins over UAB and the Pirates, USM has not committed an error, and Friday night, the Golden Eagles turned four double plays, including three that got Giannini out of the first, second and eighth innings.
“A pitcher’s best friend,” Berry said.
Giannini wound up throwing 112 pitches, allowing five hits, while walking three batters and striking out five.
“It was the ideal time,” Giannini said. “It’s the kind of the thing you want to do, try and save the bullpen.
“The defense was great all night, and that really helps as a pitcher.”
Giannini said it was understood that he was going to be throwing as many as innings as he could Friday _ “it’s one of those unspoken things” _ and that the decidedly, pro-USM crowd gave him a huge lift coming out for the ninth.
“That was just the extra boost to really finish strong,” Giannini said. “I felt like I got a second wind, and then to get that quick inning, that’s just what I wanted to do.”
USM had stranded 20 runners in its first two games, and left four more on base through the first three innings Friday.
But the Golden Eagles broke through in the fourth to take a 3-0 lead.
First baseman Dylan Burdeaux walked and moved to second base on a wild pitch. Catcher Austin Roussel’s one-out single to right field sent Burdeaux to third, and on the first pitch after, Roussel stole second.
Freshman Michael Gilbert, who had three defensive gems at third base, followed with a single up the middle to score Burdeaux and Roussel, ending the evening of ECU starter David Lucroy (2-6).
USM second baseman Nick Dawson greeted reliever Ryan Williams with a hit-and-run single up the middle that scored Gilbert.
“It was kind of a pillow fight early between both teams,” Berry said. “We exchanged double-play balls and took momentum back and forth. The one inning, we were able to get it going and hit them with the three-spot, and even though that was all the runs we scored, at the end of the game, that’s all it took.”
ECU cut it to 3-1 in the fifth when right fielder Ian Townsend tripled off the wall in right-center field and scored one out later on center fielder Garrett Brooks’ grounder to second base.
But Giannini got out of a runners-on-first-and-third jam with two outs, getting Brooks to ground to first base, and double plays in the final two innings helped doom the Pirates’ cause.
Roussel and Gilbert each had two of USM’s eight hits, while shortstop Hunter Allen led ECU with two hits.