HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - University of Southern Miss coach Scott Berry preaches the importance of being able to produce runs in a baseball game's quiet hours, that midgame lull before the storm of the last inning.
The Golden Eagles did just that Friday night against the University of Evansville.
Left fielder Hunter Slater's leadoff solo home run tied the game and ignited a five-run eighth inning as USM finally grabbed control of a 14-10 victory in the opener of a three-game series with the Purple Aces.
"It was an ugly game," Berry said. "But you have to remember, it's about getting a 'W' and that's what our guys were able to do."
The Golden Eagles (4-1) wound up on top in a see-saw game that saw the two teams combine for 24 runs, 26 hits, seven errors and three hit batsmen.
And they did it by taking the wind out of the sails of the opponent, leaving the Aces (1-4) down four runs with just three outs to play.
"The sixth, seventh and eighth (innings) that's when we want to score the majority of our runs against those late bullpen guys, and that's what we did (Friday night)," said Slater, whose opposite-field shot just left of the big wall in center field lifted the Golden Eagles into a 10-10 tie.
USM tacked on four more runs off relievers Blake Swanger and Hunter Porterfield.
After Slater's big hit, third baseman Taylor Braley singled off Swanger (0-1) before giving way to Porterfield with one out.
Porterfield got designated hitter Matt Wallner to fly out, but then issued three, consecutive walks, including shortstop LeeMarcus Boyd battling back from a 0-2 count, to force in Braley with the go-ahead run.
First baseman Dylan Burdeaux, who had been hitless in five previous plate appearances, scorched a single into left-center that scored two runs and right fielder Mason Irby, who collected his first, four-hit game, drove in the final run with a single.
"That was a good game, a good win," said Irby, who drove in three runs. "We could have laid down early, but we scratched back, fought back, staying with it."
Doubles by shortstop Stewart Nelson and catcher Andrew Tanous gave Evansville a 1-0 lead in the first inning off right-hander Hayden Roberts, but USM tied the game in the bottom of the inning when center fielder Daniel Keating was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
The Purple Aces loaded the bases in the second inning on an error, walk and single. Roberts, who finished with nine strikeouts and has 20 in his first two starts, struck out the next two batters but served up a grand slam to designated hitter Travis Tokarek to give Evansville a 5-1 lead.
But the Golden Eagles answered with six runs in the bottom of the inning, knocking Evansville right-hander Connor Strain from the game. Irby drove in the first run with a bases-loaded single and Hunter Slater followed with a two-run single to make the score 5-4.
Wallner's chopper popped in and out of the glove of first baseman Jimmy Day, allowing two more runs to score, and Keating forced in the final run of the six-run inning with a bases-loaded walk.
Evansville tied the game in the third inning on two-out, two-run throwing error by USM catcher Cole Donaldson, before the Golden Eagles went ahead 9-7 in the bottom of the inning on Irby's sacrifice fly and a throwing catcher by Aces catcher Andrew Tanous.
But Evansville tied the game in the fifth inning center fielder Kenton Crews' run-scoring single and fielder's choice grounder by shortstop Stewart Nelson, then took a 10-9 lead on a single by right fielder Korbin Williams in the sixth inning.
Wallner (1-0) became USM's fourth pitcher and allowed just one hit over the final two frames, striking out two to pick up his first collegiate win.
The teams will play at 2 p.m. Saturday.