HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Taylor Braley's home run with two outs in the fifth inning was a huge boost for the University of Southern Mississippi Sunday afternoon in the Hattiesburg Regional.
Tracy Hadley's homer three batters later proved decisive.
The pair powered a four run inning that turned a slim lead into a sudden and much-more-comfortable five-run cushion as the Golden Eagles claimed an 8-3 victory over the Jaguars in the regional winner's bracket.
The victory before 4,237 sent top-seeded Southern Miss (50-14) forward to a 1 p.m. game Monday as the sole undefeated team in the regional at Taylor Park.
It's only the second time the Golden Eagles have won the first two games of a NCAA Regional, matching the 2009 ballclub's start. The win also marked a three-game sweep of the Jaguars this season, with Southern Miss winning both ends of home-and-home regular-season series.
"A lot of big moments in that game, and very proud of our guys," Southern Miss coach Scott Berry, who has led the Golden Eagles to the first 50-win season in school history.
"We now advance to (Monday), and stay in the winner's bracket."
Third-seeded South Alabama (40-20) fell into the elimination bracket, and had to face second-seeded Mississippi State University (37-25) Sunday night. The winner of that game will meet Southern Miss at 1 p.m. Monday.
A second game, if necessary, was set for 6 p.m. Monday.
"We just couldn't get the big hit that we've been used to getting for pretty much the past 30 games or so," said South Alabama coach Mark Calvi, who saw the Jaguars strand a season-high-tying 15 baserunners.
"But credit to Southern Miss. Outstanding job by them."
Especially Braley. At the plate, the junior drove in a pair of runs, doubled and homered and scored twice.
Braley (7-2) also got nod as starting pitcher, and allowed three runs on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings. He walked two and struck out four.
"Really, was just mixing it up, not throwing a whole lot of fastballs after the first few innings," Braley said. "They were all sitting there for the fastball, and early on, I was leaving the ball up in the zone and they were getting to it.
"But just mixing it up, adding the change-up, helped me last as long as I did."
Stevie Powers, Nick Sandlin and Hayden Roberts combined for a scoreless 3 1/3 innings in his wake.
"They did a great job navigating through that lineup," Berry said.
Braley gave Southern Miss the early lead on a sacrifice fly, but Colton Thomas caught up with a Braley fastball and sent it over the fence for a 2-1 Jaguar lead after one inning.
But Southern Miss took the lead for good in the third inning off USA starter Tyler Carr (7-2). Matt Wallner drove in the first of his two runs with a single to tie the game, and a batter later, Hunter Slater hit a sacrifice fly to give the Golden Eagles a 3-2 edge.
Braley launched his 17th home run of the season over the scoreboard in left-center field off reliever Zach Melton for a 4-2 lead with two outs in the fifth inning.
But Southern Miss was not done. Wallner was hit by a pitch, Slater walked and Hadley followed with his second home run of the season and the third of his career just over the left edge of the center-field wall for a 7-2 lead.
"The guy had been painting fastballs all game," Hadley said of Melton. "He gave me one over the plate, and I got a good swing on it. I mean, could you tell by my smile?
"It felt good. I've been up and down this whole season, and I haven't really been hitting very many barrels and that one felt good."
USA left fielder Dylan Hardy, who collected three hits for a second consecutive game, drove in a sixth-inning run with an RBI-single that got the Jaguars within 7-3.
But Braley doubled and Wallner added his second, run-scoring single in the seventh inning for to cap the scoring.