USM drops C-USA rubber match to La. Tech, 8-3

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The University of Southern Mississippi will have to wait another weekend for another opportunity to clinch a second consecutive Conference USA baseball crown.

Louisiana Tech University jumped out early and the Golden Eagles never were able to catch up in falling 8-3 Sunday afternoon at Pete Taylor Park.

The 13th-ranked Golden Eagles (36-14, 20-6 C-USA) fell behind 5-0 after two innings, pulled within two runs after five innings, but saw the Bulldogs (35-18, 18-9) put up a three-spot in the eighth inning to ice the game.

"We just didn't give ourselves a good opportunity," USM coach Scott Berry said. "We spotted them three runs in the first and two in the second, and even though we demonstrated (Saturday) that we had a lot of ability to come back and score a lot of runs after Friday night's loss, (Sunday) was a different story."

After splitting the first two games of the best-of-three series, the Golden Eagles had an opportunity to clinch the 2018 regular-season championship with a win Sunday.

Instead, the Bulldogs not only bounced back from Saturday's 16-1 drubbing, but snapped a string of 12 consecutive conference series' victories by the Golden Eagles.

"The thing I'm most proud of about my team is after the way we got beat (Saturday), we challenged 'em," Tech coach Lane Burroughs said. "I told 'em, 'This is a life lesson. Life ain't fair, and you'll get knocked down in life just like they knocked you down.'

"Look, they're the king of the hill. We want our program to be what they've got, and to do it, you have to beat them."

USM, which leads the second-place Bulldogs by 2 1/2 games with three C-USA games left to play needs one more conference win or a Tech conference loss to clinch the regular-season title.

The Golden Eagles take to the road Thursday for the final C-USA series, visiting Marshall University. Tech will host Old Dominion University starting Thursday.

Tech started quickly Sunday against USM starter Cody Carroll (0-3).

Taylor Young was hit by a pitch to open the game and moved to third on Dalton Skelton's single to right field. Young scored when Parker Bates hot shot went in and out of Carroll's glove for an infield single.

After Carroll walked Steele Netterville to load the bases, he was lifted in favor of reliever Trent Driver, who walked Mason Mallard to force in a run for a 2-0 lead.

Tanner Huddleston followed with a sacrifice fly to give the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead.

The edge grew to five runs in the second, when Young and Hunter Wells singled and scored on Bates' two-out, two-run double into the right-field corner.

USM got two runs back in the third inning against Tech left-hander Logan Bailey (8-1).

Bailey retired the first the first eight Golden Eagles before LeeMarcus Boyd stitched a double down the left-field line. After Gabe Montenegro walked, Luke Reynolds bounced a ball up the middle that was fielded by Young on the outfield grass.

Young dropped the ball, losing any chance of a force at second as Boyd rounded third and came about halfway down the third-base line before slamming on the brakes.

Young threw wide and wild of home, as Boyd reversed himself and came in with USM's first run and Montenegro and Reynolds moved up a base.

Montenegro then was waved home when Bailey was called for a balk, which promptly brought Burroughs from the dugout for a relatively brief but animated conversation with home plate umpire Manny Gonzalez.

USM got within 5-3 in the fifth inning when Montenegro singled, went to third base on Reynolds' single and scored when Matt Wallner topped a slow roller up the first-base line.

But that was as close as the Golden Eagles could manage.

Young, who had two hits and scored three times in the game, highlighted Tech's three-run eighth inning with a two-run single.

Bailey, who had missed his previous start with a shoulder issue, allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits over five innings. He walked two and struck out seven.

Bailey was followed to the bump by fellow left-hander David Leal, who was making his first appearance out of the bullpen after 11 mid-week starts for the Bulldogs.

Leal picked up his first save of the season, allowing just two hits over four scoreless innings, walking one and striking out five. Combined, Tech's two lefties struck out 12 Golden Eagles Sunday.

Wells led Tech's 11-hit attack with three hits, while Bates had two hits and drove in four runs.

Reynolds had three of USM's eight hits, while Casey Maack had two.

USM will wrap up the home portion of its regular-season schedule at 6 p.m. Tuesday when the University of New Orleans is set to visit Hattiesburg.

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