HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) _ After a disappointing, extra-inning loss Thursday, the University of Southern Mississippi bounced back Friday night at Pete Taylor Park.
Matt Guidry and Matt Wallner each homered to stake USM to a lead in the first inning, Stevie Powers threw six shutout innings and the Golden Eagles built an eight-run lead before claiming a 10-5 victory over the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
“Well, we played well enough to win a baseball game,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “It started there in that first inning putting a zero up in the top of the first and following with three (runs) in the bottom.
“We’re 15-1 now when we’re ahead in the first inning, so obviously, that’s a key.”
The Golden Eagles (34-18, 20-9 Conference USA) will meet the Blazers at 1 p.m. Saturday in the rubber match of the three-game series. UAB (26-29, 11-18) took Thursday’s opener 3-2 in 10 innings.
USM will be playing for another win and an outside chance to share the C-USA regular-season title with Florida Atlantic University.
The Owls, however, laid claim to the No. 1 seed Friday night when they held on for an 8-7 win over visiting Middle Tennessee State University. It was the second, one-run victory for FAU against MTSU, leaving it a game up on the Golden Eagles.
For USM to claim a piece of the title, FAU would have to lose and the Golden Eagles win.
Guidry, who extended his “safely-reached-base” streak to 47 games, said USM could only look at what lay ahead.
“Hey, school’s out and we’re playing baseball, so, there’s not too much to complain about,” Guidry said. “If we’re going to complain about being in second place, then maybe we need to humble ourselves a little bit.
“First-place is always the goal. It’s what this program expects, every year. But, you have to find the positives in everything. I mean, we could not be playing this week, you know? But we have a chance and that’s what we always need, so let’s make the best of our opportunities.”
USM broke on top in the first inning with more runs than it managed in nine innings Thursday night courtesy of the long ball.
Guidry hit his fifth home run of the season the opposite way over the left-field fence.
After Hunter Slater walked, Wallner cleared the big, black wall in center field with his second home run in as many days, his 17th of the season and 52nd of his career to put the Golden Eagles up 3-0.
Wallner is one home run shy of tying Marc Maddox’ career record.
USM got some timely hitting in the third inning to grab a 7-0 lead.
With one out, he Golden Eagles loaded the bases on a Guidry single, a Wallner double and an error. Cole Donaldson struck out, but Brant Blaylock delivered a two-run, pinch-hit double to right field and Danny Lynch followed with a bloop single to left to score two more.
Another two-out rally produced a run in the fourth inning when Slater and Wallner coaxed consecutive walks off reliever Ty Harris before Bowen followed with a single to center field to bump USM’s lead to 8-0.
Powers exited after six innings and UAB made a move, scoring twice in the seventh inning on a double-steal and sacrifice fly and again in the eighth on Blake Johnson’s second home run of the season.
But USM tacked on two runs in the eighth inning. UAB Sylvester Toe loaded the bases on three consecutive walks and the unloaded a wild pitch. Blaylock’s one-out sacrifice fly brought in the inning’s second run.
The Blazers added two more runs in the ninth inning on Jesse Davis’ double and Carter Pharis’ single, before a double play.
Powers (4-4) allowed four hits over six, scoreless innings, walking three and striking out five. Relievers Alex Helms and Josh Lewis combined to allow five runs (two earned) on four hits over two innings.
UAB starter Tyler Gates (2-1) took the loss, allowing four runs (three earned) on three hits over 2 1/3 innings. He walked one, struck out two.
Wallner, who reached in each of his five at-bats Friday, was on base five times home run, two doubles and two walks. He drove in two runs and score4d three times.
Guidry was the only other Golden Eagles with more than one hit. Lynch finished with two RBIs and Gabe Montenegro extended his hitting streak to 14 games.
Pharis and Johnson each had two hits for the Blazers.