HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) _ With a Conference USA regular-season championship on the line and postseason positioning at stake this weekend, the University of Southern Mississippi bumbled and stumbled its way Thursday night to a 3-2 loss in 10 innings to the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
UAB second baseman Tyler Tolbert slipped a two-out single into center field on a full count, pushing across the Blazers’ second unearned run of the game for the go-ahead score.
USM threatened in the bottom of the inning, with pinch runner Fred Franklin reaching third base with two outs. But UAB’s Jess Davis tracked down a fly ball by Hunter Slater at the warning track in left-center field.
“You win that baseball game after all the things that we did, you’d be a lucky man, I’ll tell you that right there,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “A missed opportunity (Thursday) night. You don’t play better than that on a Thursday night _ four errors defensively, missed opportunities, bad base-running, hit into double plays _ the ingredients were there to not win a baseball game.
“Like I said, you’d have to be a very lucky man to win that game.”
The Golden Eagles (33-18, 19-9 C-USA) started the weekend tied with Florida Atlantic University atop the conference standings.
The Owls (35-18, 20-8) rallied from a 4-0 deficit Friday night in Boca Raton, Fla., to take down Middle Tennessee State 5-4 in 11 innings. FAU, which held the regular-season tie-breaker with the Golden Eagles, now leads USM by a game with two to play.
UAB (26-28, 11-17) came into Hattiesburg in last place in the C-USA standings, but the Blazers still had a mathematical path into next week’s postseason tournament.
“UAB, obviously a sense of urgency, trying to get into the tournament, and hats off to them, they made the plays,” Berry said. “Their shortstop (Justin Wiley) had a heckuva game and they got the big hit when they needed it, a couple of times in two-out situations.”
The Golden Eagles’ blunders wasted a stellar pitching performance by starter Walker Powell.
The lanky right-hander went nine innings for the fourth time this, allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits. He walked only one and struck out eight, which was his second-highest single-game total of the season.
In the first inning, Jess Davis doubled and scored an unearned run on Powell’s throwing error. USM answered with a run in the third on Slater’ bases-loaded walk, but a bigger inning was short-circuited when Bryant Bowen bounded into a double play to end the inning.
Matt Wallner hit his 16th home run of the season leading off the fourth inning to give the Golden Eagles a 2-1 lead. It was the 51st home run of his career, moving him alone into second place on the career home run list, two behind all-time leader Marc Maddox.
But UAB nicked Powell for a run in the top of the fifth inning on Tolbert’s RBI-single.
That’s where the matter stood, with Powell shutting down the Blazers and UAB left-handed reliever Matthew Calvert shoveling the same to USM.
USM threatened in the seventh inning, but Gabe Montenegro overran the bag at third base on a bunt, and got caught in a brief rundown for the final out of the inning.
Calvert (1-5) allowed only four hits over the last 6 2/3 innings, He walked one and struck out three.
USM reliever Hunter Stanley (5-2) took over for Powell in the 10th inning. Slater couldn’t handle Austin Tribble’s pop up, which led to Tolbert’s game-winner.
Montenegro extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a pair of singles and Matthew Guidry’s “reach-base-safely” streak was bumped to 46 games after he singled twice.
Wallner also had a pair of hits for the Golden Eagles.
Jess Davis led UAB with a double and two singles and Tolbert added two singles.
The teams will play game two of the three game series at 6 p.m. Friday.