RUSTON, La. _ Matt Wallner christened the opening of Conference USA baseball play with a three-run home run in the first inning and Hunter Slater drove in four runs with a pair of homers as the University of Southern Mississippi outslugged Louisiana Tech University 12-9 Friday night at J.C. Love Field.
The Golden Eagles (9-6, 1-0 C-USA), who won for the fifth time in six games, survived four Bulldog home runs among the 13 hits the hosts rained down on four USM pitchers.
But USM cranked out 16 hits Friday, the most in a game since the opening weekend against Purdue University, and as it turned out, the Golden Eagles needed nearly every single one of them.
Wallner got USM out of the gate quickly, cranking his third homer of the season with two outs in the first inning off Louisiana Tech starter Matt Miller to give the Golden Eagles a 3-0 lead.
The lead lasted an inning. The Bulldogs beat up USM starter Walker Powell in the bottom of the second inning, scoring five runs on five hits, including two-run home runs by Shelton Wallace and Steele Netterville and a run-scoring single by Parker Bates.
The Golden Eagles tied the score with two runs in the third inning. The first scored on a passed ball, the second on a RBI-grounder by Brant Blaylock, who was back in the starting lineup for the first time since Purdue.
Slater then put USM back in the lead with a one-out, three-run shot down the right-field line off reliever Jonathan Fincher (1-1) that put the Golden Eagles up 8-5.
USM tacked on another run in the fifth inning when Danny Lynch reached on an error and eventually came around to score on an error.
But deflated the four-run cushion by half when the first two batters in the bottom of the inning, Bates and Mason Mallard, took USM reliever Cody Carroll over the wall to pull the Bulldogs within 9-7.
After Carroll hit the next batter, USM turned to Aaron Ginn (1-0), who got out of the inning without any further damage.
Blaylock’s two run single in the sixth got both runs back and put USM up 11-7. Tech scored once in the sixth on Bates sacrifice fly and once in the seventh on a run-scoring single by Mason Robinson.
But USM reliever J.C. Keys got through a slightly dicey eighth inning _ men on first and second, two outs _ and Slater gave him an extra run to work with when he hit his second homer of the game over the fence in right field.
Keys did just that, striking out the side in the ninth inning to pick up his second save of the season. He allowed two hits in two scoreless innings with three strikeouts.
Ginn picked up the win, who allowed two unearned runs on three hits in three innings.
Fincher picked up the loss, allowing six runs (five earned) on five hits over 2 1/3 innings. He walked two, struck out four.
Slater and Wallner had three hits each for the Golden Eagles. Slater had two homers and a single, scored three runs and drove in four. Wallner had a home run, double and single, scored twice and drove in three runs.
Blaylock hit a double and single and drove in three runs. Matthew Guidry hit a pair of singles and scored three times while Erick Hoard also had two singles and scored a run.
Bates, Mallard, Robinson, Chris Clayton and Taylor Young each had two hits for the Bulldogs.
The second game of the three-game series is set for 2 p.m. Saturday.