USM captures series against FAU with walk-off win

USM captures series against FAU with walk-off win

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Somehow, Matthew Guidry was able to stay in the moment as he headed toward home plate Saturday afternoon with the game-tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

"I was just kind of enjoying it with the whole stadium," Guidry said of the noise that erupted at Taylor Park after Mason Irby whistled a two-out, 3-2 pitch into right field for a single.

A few moments later, the crowd became even louder as Irby sprinted home on Cameron Ragsdale's wild pitch to give the 20th-ranked Golden Eagles a 6-5 victory over Florida Atlantic University before 3,445 people in Pete Taylor Park.

It was USM's fifth walk-off victory of the season and came just an inning after the Owls had rallied for four runs to completely erase a 4-0 deficit and grab a 5-4 lead.

"There's just no quit in these guy, as you can see," USM coach Scott Berry said. "We've lost 12 games, but a lot of those were not because we just gave in. (Saturday), we easily could have given in and lost number 13, hung our heads and felt sorry, but we didn't. We stayed the course all the way to the end."

As a result, the Golden Eagles (36-12, 18-5 Conference USA) won their sixth consecutive game and pocketed their seventh conference series of the season after coupling Saturday's comeback with an 11-2 win Friday night.

USM will remain no worse than two games ahead of the rest of the C-USA field heading into Sunday's finale with FAU. The Owls (29-15-1, 15-8) fell three games back of the Golden Eagles in the standings.

In fact, FAU slipped into third place in C-USA with the loss. Old Dominion University won the first game of a doubleheader at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Saturday to stay two-and-a-half games back, while Charlotte University dropped a second consecutive game to Rice University to fall four games off the pace.

The Golden Eagles will go for the sweep at 1 p.m. Sunday.

"We have a good weekend going right now," Berry said. "We need a great weekend, and that's (Sunday), when we need to come out and finish this thing off."

"We've given ourselves the opportunity to do something great."

Guidry gave USM an opportunity with his at-bat against one of C-USA's top closers to lead off the Golden Eagles' last chance.

Ragsdale, who came into the series with seven saves, started Guidry with two strikes. But Guidry fought back, fouling off two balls in a nine-pitch at-bat that ended in a walk.

"I knew when I went down 0-2 that it was definitely going to be hard," Guidry said. "That was their closer, so typically, that's a pretty hard task."

"I just knew that if I could find a way on, no matter how ugly it looked, I knew (LeeMarcus Boyd) was going to get me over, and then let the top of the lineup do what they do."

Boyd indeed did bunt Guidry to second, bringing up Dylan Burdeaux, who got jammed and grounded weakly to third base.

That brought up Irby, who earlier in the game had extended his hitting streak to 14 games.

Irby worked Ragsdale (2-1) to a full count before lacing a line single into right field.

The hit not only scored Guidry, but got through right fielder David Miranda, allowing Irby to race to third base.

"Great job by Guidry getting himself into scoring position, and that's the position that you want to be in, being a competitor," Irby said. "I got a pitch that I could handle, and off the bat, I'm trying to be aggressive to get to second on a throw home."

"So, I was rounding it hard, but then when I saw it go through his glove, I just put my head down, thinking maybe I had a chance to score."

Irby would have to wait two pitches into Hunter Slater's at-bat, when Ragsdale uncorked a pitch that got away from catcher Kevin Abraham and bounded about 15 feet away from the plate.

"That's the difference between being on first or on third," Berry said.

USM went up 2-0 in the first inning on Taylor Braley's 11th home run of the season, a two-run shot with two outs that hit the scoreboard in left-center field and scored Slater ahead of him.

Jake Viaene made it 3-0 in the fourth inning off FAU starter Blake Sanderson with his second homer of the season, a solo shot over the fence in right field.

The Golden Eagles loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth inning, but only managed to score one run when Braley dropped a single over a drawn-in infield for a 4-0 lead.

Meanwhile, USM starter Kirk McCarty eased minds about potential arm issues. He exited after allowing just two singles over six innings, walking two and striking out six.

His departure brought from the bullpen Hayden Roberts, the Golden Eagles' former Friday night starter, Roberts gave up Jared Shouppe's fourth homer of the season with one out, then was lifted with runners on second and third with two outs.

Nick Sandlin (7-1) entered, and walked Tyler Frank to load the bases, but got Austin Langham to hit a tapper that turned into an inning-ending forceout at home plate.

But Sandlin lost control in the eighth inning. He allowed a leadoff double Miranda, then hit consecutive Owls with pitches to load the bases.

Braley made a leaping, leaning catch against the bullpen wall for the second out, but Sandlin hit the next two batters with pitches to force in two runs and cut the lead to 4-3.

Tyler Frank followed with a grounder that skipped just under Braley's glove through the hole into left field, scoring two and giving the Owls a 5-4 lead.

Sandlin got out of the eighth and then worked a creaky ninth inning, stranding runners at first and second, setting up the Golden Eagles' dramatics in the bottom of the ninth.

"This offense is never out of it, this whole team is never out of it," Guidry said. "We don't ever feel like we're down, we just feel like we're in a hole (sometimes). The energy stayed up, and that's what's special about this team."