HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Scott Berry didn't mince words in summing up a disappointing Sunday afternoon of University of Southern Mississippi baseball at Taylor Park.
"We had a chance to have a really great weekend and close (a series sweep) out, but we didn't do anything well enough to do that against a team that was hungry for a win," Berry said. "I felt like the effort was there. I felt like we never quit even down to the last.
"But we missed on opportunities, we never got any stops after we scored…We didn't run the bases well, and we didn't play catch well."
The result: a methodical, 10-4 drubbing at the hands of Florida International University before 3,141 in the finale of a three-game Conference USA series.
The No. 17 Golden Eagles (26-7, 10-2 C-USA) had locked up the series win with back-to-back victories Friday and Saturday.
But USM did little to give itself a chance Sunday. Consider:
- The Golden Eagles waded through nine pitchers, the most they had used since facing Mississippi State University at Trustmark Park in Pearl on March 29, 2015. The staff combined to give up 13 hits and issue a season-high-tying eight walks as the Panthers (18-14, 6-6) scored in every inning except the first and last.
- The Golden Eagles stranded nine baserunners, including two in a seventh inning when USM loaded the bases with no outs only to hit weakly into a third-to-catcher-to first base double play and then add a strikeout to end threat and the inning.
- The Golden Eagles committed a season-high four errors, though only one of FIU’s runs were unearned. The 10 runs were the most USM had allowed to a conference opponent and third-most all season (University of Alabama 12 on Feb. 22, University of Louisiana-Lafayette 11 on March 5).
Despite the loss, the Golden Eagles remained atop C-USA after both Florida Atlantic University and Old Dominion University lost Sunday and fell to 9-3 and a game behind USM.
"We've got to play better and move forward as a club," Berry said. "We're 26-7, so we've played good baseball through 33 games, but we're 2-2 this week (including an extra-inning, midweek loss to Ole Miss). We played .500 ball and we've got to play better than that."
FIU took a 1-0 lead off starter J.C. Keys (2-2) in the second inning on Kolby Follis' single and made it 2-0 in the third on Kenny Meimerstorf's sacrifice fly.
USM tied it in the bottom of the inning on runs-scoring singles by Hunter Slater and Taylor Braley, but JC Escarra hit the first of his two solo home runs to give the Panthers a lead they would never lose.
FIU added two runs in the fifth and another in the sixth to grab a 6-2 lead.
Matt Wallner hit a solo home run in the sixth, his 11th of the season and second of the series. Wallner is only the second freshman in USM baseball history to hit 10 or more home runs in a season, and trails only former catcher Darren Welch, who hit 13 homers in 1999.
This week, Wallner broke a second-place tie with Cliff Wren (1996) and Brad Willcutt (2002), who hit nine each as a freshmen, and already had passed Doug Cronk (1986), Tommy Davis (1992) and B.A. Vollmuth (2009), who each hit eight as first-year Golden Eagles.
But the Panthers all but wrapped the game up three runs in the seventh and Zack Soria's solo home run to lead off the top of the eighth inning.
USM scratched a run in the bottom of the seventh on Dylan Burdeaux's RBI-single, but failed to build any sustained momentum throughout the game.
"We created some pressure for momentum, but we didn't finish it," Berry said. "The same way on the mound. We didn't get the stops. We scored in three innings, and they came right back and answered."
Burdeaux and Storme Cooper had two hits apiece for the Golden Eagles. Escarra had two home runs and a single for FIU, while he, Meimerstorf, Soria and Follis each drove in two runs.
FIU starter Nick McDonald (5-0) allowed three runs on six hits in six innings, walking one while striking out seven.
The Golden Eagles will host the University of Mississippi at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Taylor Park before heading to Houston and a three-game C-USA series with Rice University at Reckling Park.