USM blows late-game lead, falls to Rice 7-6

USM blows late-game lead, falls to Rice 7-6
USM head coach Scott Berry. Courtesy: WDAM

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Golden Eagles entered the eighth inning with a 6-2 lead over Rice but saw the Owls leave Hattiesburg with a 7-6 win in the series finale.

Southern Miss took the lead with a six-run fifth inning, thanks in large part to Matt Wallner's grand slam over the centerfield fence. Cody Carroll held the Owls off in his 2.1 innings of relief, striking out five of the nine batters he faced.

USM had an opportunity for more runs in the bottom of the seventh inning when Rice pitcher Dane Acker balked, allowing Wallner to advance from third to home.

However, Owls coach Wayne Graham discussion with home plate umpire Joseph Smith prompted a meeting among the umpire crew and eventually and overturn of the initial balk call. The run would have extended USM's lead to 7-2.

"I have never seen that before," Berry said. "And I honestly didn't even listen to [Smith's] explanation. He had the call right, I saw it. That's what was frustrating. It wasn't like he didn't do it. He started, stopped, then started again. Obviously, that run was big."

The very next half-inning, Rice scored five runs in the top eighth to take a 7-6 advantage. Sunday's seventh loss of the season marks the fifth that resulted in the Eagles giving up a lead.

"We've had times where we've done really well and we've had times where we had stretches that we've done well," Berry said. "This particular weekend, we have two bad innings out of nowhere. Today was a game of two innings – their inning and our inning. They were both big innings. We've got to figure out a way to eliminate those and control that. We got to learn how to finish games, particularly where we were so deep in the game today."

Southern Miss (19-7, 6-2 Conference USA) hosts Louisiana-Lafayette in a two-game series on Tuesday and Wednesday.