The University of Southern Mississippi ended Saturday’s regular-season baseball finale at Marshall University the same way it started, with a bang.
The 18th-ranked Golden Eagles sent 13 batters to the plate in both the second and ninth innings, scoring eight runs in each, as USM finished off a first-ever sweep of the Thundering Herd on its home turf with a 18-9 victory at Epling Stadium.
The Golden Eagles (36-15, 22-6 Conference USA), which clinched its second consecutive regular-season C-USA championship with a win Thursday, collected a season-high 21 hits Saturday while scoring the most runs in a conference games this year.
Luke Reynolds (15th), Hunter Slater (10th) and LeeMarcus Boyd (seventh) each had a home run among their three hits, while Fred Franklin also collected a trio of hits.
Mason Irby, who extended his team- best hitting streak to 15 games, had two hits along with Matt Wallner and Gabe Montenegro.
Wallner, who picked up his sixth save of the season Friday with one pitch, made his first start of the season Saturday and allowed five runs on seven hits over four innings. He struck out six and walked one.
Keller Bradford (2-1) allowed two runs on two hits and a walk in his one inning to pick up the win. Alex Nelms, who had not pitched since April 3, picked up his first save of the season by allowing an unearned run on three hits over the final two innings.
The Herd (19-31, 7-22) amassed 14 hits against five Golden Eagles’ pitchers, with Erik Rodriguez going 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles.
But USM jumped out early on Marshall starter Zac McNeel (1-4), with Reynolds cracking a two-run home run in the first.
After Marshall scored a run in the bottom on the inning without benefit of a hit to pull within 2-1, the Golden Eagles chased McNeel from the game with a seven-hit, eight-run second inning.
Boyd’s three-run home run bumped the lead to 5-1 and USM added five more runs on Bryan Bowen’s two-run single, RBI-singles by Wallner and Franklin and a wild pitch.
Marshall pecked away during the middle innings of the game as the Golden Eagles’ bats went relatively dormant. After answering USM’s big inning with three runs of its own in the bottom of the second, the Herd scored a run in the fourth and two more in the sixth to pull within 10-7.
Marshall added another run in the seventh and had the bases loaded with one out when reliever Cody Carroll uncorked a wild pitch.
The ball caromed off the backstop, allowing Cole Donaldson _ who had replaced Bowen behind the plate at the start of the inning _ to tag out the runner trying to score from third base and then throw down to second base to get another Herd runner who had strayed too far off base.
The inning-ending double play left USM still up two runs, and the Golden Eagles iced the game in the top of the ninth, collecting eight hits in an eight-run inning highlighted by Slater’s 10th home run of the season, a three-run blast to dead center field.
Franklin and Wallner hit RBI doubles and Boyd and Montenegro each had run-scoring single. Another run scored on a wild pitch.
Boyd finished with a career-high four RBIs and scored twice. Reynolds had three RBIs and two runs scored and Slater had three RBIs and scored three times. Montenegro scored three times and drove in a run, while Wallner had two RBIs and two runs scored and Franklin two RBIs and a run scored.
The Golden Eagles, who will sport the top seed in the conference postseason for a second consecutive year, will face the eighth seed at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the 2108 Conference USA Baseball Tournament’s opening round at MGM Park in Biloxi.
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