BILOXI, Miss. (WDAM) - Southern Miss baseball coach Scott Berry figured his Golden Eagles would have to win this week’s The First 2019 C-USA Baseball Championship presented by Air Force Reserve to earn a spot in a fourth consecutive NCAA Regional.
And thanks to a gritty, five-man pitching performance and just enough offense Sunday afternoon, Berry’s band went out and did just that.
USM’s pitching staff extended its string of scoreless innings to 19 in notching its second consecutive shutout as the second-seeded Golden Eagles blanked top-seeded Florida Atlantic 4-0 before an announced 3,476 at MGM Park.
“We talked in our pregame meeting: Let’s leave no doubt for the committee,’” USM coach Scott Berry said. “Let’s go ahead and get this thing done. Let’s pick up where we left off (Saturday), and that’s what our guys did.”
The Golden Eagles (38-19), who finished runner-up to the Owls (40-20) during the regular season, beat FAU for a second consecutive year in the postseason title game. It marked the first time USM had won back-to-back postseason baseball tournaments.
“This was a new season, and we were starting over, said USM outfielder Matt Wallner, who was named tourney Most Valuable Player. “We had to get back to the team I know we can be, and that’s what we did this week.”
USM will find out Monday at 11 a.m. where they will be heading when the regionals are announced on ESPNU.
For a second consecutive C-USA Tournament, USM’ staff posted a pair of shutouts. This weekend, the Golden Eagles did not allow a run in either the semifinal or final rounds.
Three USM pitchers _ starter Gabe Shepard and relievers Cody Carroll and Hunter Stanley _ combined Saturday on the first no-hitter in tournament history.
Sunday, five USM pitchers shut out FAU in what was not only the first scoreless game of the season for the Owls but snapped a 110-game streak of scoring at least one run. The last time FAU had been blanked: March 2018, a 4-0 loss at Oregon.
Toss in a scoreless ninth inning by Marshall Thursday, and USM pitching finished on a 19-inning run.
“What can we say,” Berry said. “Eighteen shutout innings over the last two days. Nine innings (Sunday) and no-hit ball (Saturday). FAU has the best offensive approach of any team we’ve faced and to keep them off the board was pretty incredible by our staff.”
That effort included appearances by a pair of pitchers who started for the Golden Eagles Wednesday and Thursday.
Walker Powell started the game and scattered five hits over four innings. He escaped a bases-loaded situation in the first inning by getting an inning-ending double play.
“The difference was the beginning of the game,” FAU coach John McCormack said. “We had the bases loaded, one out and we weren’t able to convert. They were.
“So, congratulations to them. We have to be better. We had some opportunities. We have to score some runs, and we weren’t able to do it, but credit USM’s pitchers. They did a great job.”
Powell was followed by Sean Tweedy for 1 1/3 innings, then left-hander Stevie Powers, who started Thursday’s game.
Powers (5-4) got the win, allowing two hits in 2 2/3 innings. He, in turn, was followed by Carroll and Hunter, who split the ninth inning. Hunter got the save by getting the final two outs with runners on second and third.
FAU ended up stranding 11 runners Sunday, including seven in scoring position. The Owls left 51 stranded over four tournament games,
USM pushed across a single run in the second inning on Danny Lynch’s RBI single, then made it 3-0 in the third inning on Wallner’s check-swing blooper into left field and a groundout by Cole Donaldson.
Lynch scored the final run of the game on Matt Guidry’s single in the seventh inning.
2019 All-Tournament Team
Wallner, who hit a game-winning, walk-off home run in the 10th inning of a 6-4 win over Rice in Wednesday’s opening round, was named the championship’s Most Valuable Player after hitting .438 in four tournament games with two home runs, three RBIs and three runs scored.
Joining Wallner on the 2019 All-Tournament team were third baseman Danny Lynch, outfielder Fred Franklin, designated hitter Bryant Bowen and starting pitchers Walker Powell and Gabe Shepard from USM; catcher Pedro Pages, second baseman Francisco Urbaez, starting pitcher Mike Ruff and relief pitcher Nick Swan from FAU; outfielder Ryan Stacy and shortstop Hunter Grimes of Texas-San Antonio; and Elvis Peralta of Marshall.