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USM turns long day into championship game day

The University of Southern Mississippi will take on host Ole Miss Monday with the Oxford...
The University of Southern Mississippi will take on host Ole Miss Monday with the Oxford Regional crown up for grabs.(Taylor Curet/WDAM-TV)
Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 10:49 AM CDT
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OXFORD, Miss. (WDAM) - For many, Sunday was a day of rest.

For others, Sunday was a day of worship.

For the University of Southern Mississippi baseball team, Sunday was a day of relief.

Two young pitchers came out of USM’s bullpen for a win-or-go-home Sunday and provided a double dollop of dominance that helped carry the Golden Eagles into a one-game showdown Monday afternoon for the Oxford Regional championship.

“Tough day,” USM baseball coach Scott Berry said. “Long day.

“We had to win two games to get to tomorrow, and that’s exactly what our team did.”

The second-seeded Golden Eagles (40-20) took different paths Sunday to accomplish the feat, gradually overcoming a three-run deficit to defeat third seed Florida State University for the first time since 1991 and then immediately filling a four-run hole in the nightcap to hand host and top seed University of Mississippi its first loss in three days of regional play.

“Maturity,” said USM outfielder Reed Trimble, who drove in three of his four runs against Ole Miss in two at-bats in a first inning that sent 12 Golden Eagles to the plate.

“We’ve trusted ourselves that we’re good enough to compete with anybody in the country, and not only compete, but even win against anybody in the country.”

And while the USM bats came up clutch in both games with not only a quantity of hits but quality, relievers Ryan Och and Tanner Hall were the defenders on the bridge who simply would not let the opposition cross.

Och turned in single-game career highs in innings pitched (4 2/3) and strikeouts (11), while holding the Seminoles scoreless for more than half the game.

Look at it this way: When Och entered the game, USM was down by three runs with FSU flexing its muscle at the plate. By the time he exited, the FSU offense was sitting on a porch somewhere in the warm sunlight and USM held a two-run lead with just five Seminole outs left to collect.

While Och’s outing was a notch or three above any past performance, his afternoon was not a knock-me-down-with-a-feather moment.

Och came in as a well-known asset, 7-0 and a first-team Conference USA selection as a relief pitcher.

The oh-my-stars-and garters moment came a few hours later, when Hall trotted out to the mound to start the fifth inning in a situation where momentum had not quite reached the Ole Miss dugout but seemed to be slipping from USM’s grasp a bit.

USM’s second game Sunday had a call and response aspect to it, where Ole Miss would strike, only to have the Golden Eagles answer.

Ole Miss grabbed a 4-0 lead out of the gate, only to see USM batter Rebels starting pitcher Drew McDaniel for seven runs in the bottom of the first inning.

Ole Miss second baseman Peyton Chatagnier hit a solo homer in the top of the second inning to pull the Rebels within 7-5. USM’s Will McGillis responded with a two-run bomb in the bottom of the second inning.

“Tough start to the game for us,” Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco said. “Man, were they on fire.

“We just ran into a buzzsaw.”

And then a bowling ball.

Ole Miss pitcher Tyler Myers took over in the first inning after the McDaniel ambush and slowed the USM bats enough for Ole Miss to get back within two runs at 9-7 after four innings.

The Rebels got no closer because of Hall, who worked five scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and walking none while striking out five.

“Obviously, another star was born,” Berry said. “The young man gave us five innings of one-hit baseball and just dominated another good-hitting team.’”

His heavy fastball not only was tough for batters to elevate, but had some wicked movement.

“His pitches, especially his two-seam fastball, they’re like bowling balls,” Berry said.

Trimble said he had a good view of what the Rebel hitters were facing.

“I’m watching from center field, and he’s throwing 89 miles-an-hour, 91-miles-an-hour fastballs that are moving two feet, like a left-handed slider,” Trimble said. “Pretty incredible.”

Indeed, especially when you consider Hall may have had the quietest 16 appearances by a USM pitcher in recent memory.

Berry said Hall was effective in the early season, and USM may have overtaxed him early.

But honestly, Hall’s effort Sunday came out of the blue like a lightning bolt from a clear sky.

With USM’s starting rotation gaining traction once the Conference USA season kicked in, and those starters eating innings like a beggar at a banquet, Hall kind of joined the rest of the Maytag men in the USM bullpen not named Och.

But once called upon, Hall seized the moment like a Belgium Malinois in training, clamping down on the Rebels’ bats and declining to let go.

“I knew I had to go out there and make some pitches,” Hall said, “so, what I did was broke everything down to ‘I need to make this pitch to this batter at this time.’ That was basically it. One pitch at a time.”

Not only did Ole Miss not get any closer over the game’s final five innings, but the Golden Eagles tacked on an insurance run that helped ensure them of a spot in Monday’s winner-take-all affair.

“Not only did we win a ballgame, but we get to play (Monday), against the same team, and momentum is on our side,” Hall said.

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