Southern Miss Athletics
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Rule of thumb says baseball teams playing their fifth tournament games in four days are supposed to be pitching-depleted.
UTSA right-hander Justin Anderson proved otherwise Saturday night in the 2014 Conference USA Baseball Tournament at Pete Taylor Park.
Anderson handcuffed third-seeded Southern Miss for eight scoreless innings to lead the seventh-seeded Roadrunners to a 7-0 victory in a bracket championship game.
UTSA broke open a scoreless game in the seventh inning and then put it out of reach with a five-run eighth inning.
"That was a clutch performance," UTSA Jason Marshall said. "That was a big-time performance, just the resiliency of the whole ballclub.
"But Justin led the way. He put the zeroes up and allowed us to compete and stay in the ballgame as long as we were in it. Finally, we got the hits late. But Justin did a great job. It was another great pitching performance."
Anderson became the third UTSA pitcher to go at least eight innings in the tournament, joining Victor Diaz and Brock Hartson.
Anderson, who left the game after allowing Michael Gilbert's single to lead off the ninth inning, scattered six hits, while walking four and striking out five.
He twice wriggled through bases-loaded jams, getting right fielder Mason Robbins to fly out to end the third inning, and got designated hitter Matthew Durst on a groundout to end the fifth.
"There was a lot of effort," Anderson said. "I was starting to get tired after the seventh inning. I was just telling myself to keep going. The offense kept fighting, and finally in the seventh inning, they put up those two runs. That was big time."
UTSA (35-25) will face top-seeded Rice (40-18) at 1 p.m. Sunday for the tournament championship and an automatic berth in the NCAA postseason.
Like Rice, the Roadrunners will be playing for a second, consecutive conference tournament baseball crown. UTSA won a Western Athletic Conference tourney title last year before moving into C-USA for all sports this past fall.
The host Golden Eagles (35-35), who forced a second game with UTSA with a ninth-inning run in an 8-7 win earlier Saturday, saw its tournament run as well as its season come to an end.
"(The bats) just didn't come around," USM coach Scott Berry said. "We had several opportunities, but it was going to take a big hit. Anderson took that away from us. That is what good ones do. He is a pretty good hand for them."
USM starter Jay Myrick (1-2), making his first start of the season, matched Anderson (4-5) through the first six innings, as neither team could push a run across.
"I can't say more (about) Jay Myrick, a guy who hasn't had many opportunities out there," Berry said. "For him to go out on his last game, probably ever, and give us the performance he did. I am very appreciative of that."
But after Myrick allowed a sharp single to center fielder Jesse Baker to lead off the seventh inning, USM turned to a bullpen that couldn't hold off the Roadrunners.
After Baker was bunted over to second base, Luke Lowery walked left fielder Logan Kinder and gave up a single to second baseman C.J. Pickering.
That brought in freshman Cooper Jones, making his first appearance since April 15. Right fielder John Welborn skied a two-run single to right field for the game's first runs.
USM got out of the inning with no more damage, but could do nothing with Anderson, going 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning.
The wheels came off in the eighth for the USM bullpen, as three pitchers were tapped for five runs by the Roadrunners. Back-to-back doubles by catcher John Bormann and Baker opened the inning for a 3-0 lead and two more hits, a hit batsman, bases-loaded walk and wild pitch finished off the scoring.
Second baseman Nick Dawson and third baseman Michael Gilbert had two of USM's six hits, while Welborn, Baker and Bormann had two apiece for UTSA.