RUSTON, La. – It was as high pressure as postseason baseball could possibly get. , Unfortunately for Southern Miss, with a one-run deficit, bases loaded and two outs, the Golden Eagles found themselves on the losing end of back-to-back come-from-behind wins on Saturday.
The Bulldogs ended the crazy day by staging a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth to walk off Southern Miss 6-5 in the semifinals of the C-USA tournament. The loss snaps the Golden Eagles’ four-year streak of appearing in the C-USA championship game.
It was as fitting of an ending between Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss, with seven of their 11 games decided by one run this season. The elimination game was set up by an 11-10 loss in extra innings as Southern Miss’ bullpen struggled despite holding an 8-0 lead.
“Guys are tore up, crushed, the coaching staff and everyone involved,” Berry said.
We had the game where we wanted it. We just didn’t close it out.”
A fly ball away
Southern Miss’ frustrating day was capped off in the final innings of its second game’s loss.
Louisiana Tech took the lead in the bottom of the eighth inning with a solo home run to take a 2-1 lead.
With one out in the bottom of the night and runners at first and second, pinch hitter Slade Wilks hit a three-run home run to give the Golden Eagles a 4-2 lead. Brady Faust then added a run from an RBI sac fly to push the lead to 5-2.
However, like in the first game of the day, Southern Miss’ bullpen struggles led to the Golden Eagles putting shortstop Dustin Dickerson on the mound in his first-ever career appearance in the bottom of the ninth.
“A you have seen over the last two or to three weeks, our bullpen hasn’t been real sharp,” Berry said. “We didn’t have many guys available.
“Dickerson has been throwing bullpens on the side, and he has a really electric arm. His fastball was there, but his secondary wasn’t tonight. We thought maybe he’d give us a shot in the arm because we didn’t have the options match up against La Tech.”
Dickerson rang up a strikeout before giving up a single, and an RBI sac fly to narrow the lead to 5-3.
Dickerson’s moved to the mound, shifted Will McGillis shortstop and had Brady Faust took take over second base. With two outs, Louisiana Tech hit a high fly ball into shallow center, with Faust failing to catch the ball in no man’s land. The play kept the Bulldogs alive and scored another run. One at-bat later, the Bulldogs walked off Southern Miss with a two-run RBI single.
“There wasn’t anything else we could do with that,” said Berry if he had any concern on the defensive change. “If we had a crystal ball and knew certain plays would happen, we might be able the story differently. We felt good about it with a three-run lead. I felt good when put Dickerson out there, (but) it didn’t work out.”
Southern Miss’ 11-10 loss to start the day obviously carried over into the second game. The Golden Eagles racked up 15 hits, with Christopher Sargent going 3-for-4 and hitting two home runs, and driving in five RBI. The Golden Eagles jumped out to an 8-0 lead by the fourth inning.
However, Southern Miss’ pitching staff gave up six runs in the fifth inning and was a major turning point on the day as the Bulldogs rode the momentum for the rest of the night.
Between both games, Southern Miss, which is ranked in the top three in the nation in strikeout-to-walk ratio, used nine relief pitchers and totaled eight walks, and hit two batters.
The day’s top performance was Ben Ethridge’s start in the second game as he threw 6.1 innings and allowed one run off nine hits, which gave the Golden Eagles needed life.
Southern Miss’ losses to Louisiana Tech likely end the Golden Eagles’ chances of hosting a regional.
According to Berry, all his team can do now is move forward and focus on getting past the losses as the Golden Eagles prepare for the NCAA tournament.
“It’s life, man,” Berry said. “You’ve got to keep moving on. That’s what happened. We lost two really tough games. The next day is a new day. That’s all we can do, nothing else. We have a good ball club.”
The Golden Eagles will now wait for Selection Monday to learn where they will play in the NCAA tournament. Selection Monday is scheduled for 11 a.m. on ESPN 2.