BILOXI, Miss. (Conference USA) - Southern Miss came into MGM Park this week figuring to reach a fourth consecutive NCAA Regional it would likely have to win The First 2019 C-USA Baseball Championship presented by Air Force Reserve.
After two days, the Golden Eagles have done all they could have to accomplish just that.
Matt Guidry hit a two-run home run in the first inning and Gabe Montenegro laced a three-shot rope in the ninth to bookend a 10-5 victory Thursday evening over Marshall.
“That’s what neat about right now,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “We’re all playing for one thing. This is a new season.
“No matter what we did in the regular season, finishing second in our conference, the frustration of not being able to come out on top, that’s over. This is where we’re living right now, in the present, and it’s an all-new season.”
And, at the moment, USM is living large.
The victory left the second-seeded Golden Eagles (36-19) the lone undefeated on their side of the bracket.
USM will have Friday off and then need to win once Saturday to reach Sunday’s 1 p.m. championship game.
“It’s exciting,” said reliever Hunter Stanley, who allowed just one hit in two scoreless innings. “That’s what we’ve set out to do.”
The Golden Eagles rallied for a 6-4 victory in 10 innings over Rice in Wednesday’s opening round, with Matt Wallner’s walk-off, two-run home run vaulting USM past the Owls.
Thursday, the Golden Eagles opened with four consecutive hits off Marshall starter Wade Martin, including Montenegro’s single followed by Guidry’s sixth homer of the season.
“Talked about trying to put up where we left off (Wednesday) night,” Berry said. “We had a lot of momentum leaving this field and we wanted to keep that feeling going.
“We wanted to jump out here and with Guidry with two-run home run and just the hits that sent a message that we wanted to keep it going.”
USM did, going up 4-0 in the third inning on RBI-singles by Cole Donaldson and Danny Lynch.
Marshall came back in the bottom of the inning, picking up three unearned runs as USM’s outfield struggled with the sun, turning fly balls into errors or never-seen hits.
But USM added single runs in the fifth, sixth and eighth innings on a wild pitch run-scoring singles Hunter Slater and Bryant Bowen.
Marshall (29-27) got back within 7-5 in the bottom of the eighth inning on Shane Hanon’s two-run single, Stanley got out of the inning without further damage, pumping a fist on his way off the mound.
In the ninth, Guidry and pinch-hitter Erick Hoard walked before Montenegro unloaded his fifth home run of the season over the right-field wall.
“Both teams played hard,” Marshall Jeff Waggoner said. “They got big hits with runners in scoring position; we didn’t. They out pitched us, but my team will bounce back. They’ve been resilient all year. Hopefully, we can get back and play Southern Miss on Saturday.”
Before that can happen, the sixth-seeded Thundering Herd will have to get past seventh-seeded Rice in an elimination game at 3 p.m. Friday.
USM reliever Brant Blaylock (1-1) picked up the win allowing two runs on a hit in two innings. He walked two and struck out three. Stanley picked up his third save of the season, allowing a walk while striking out three.
USM banged out 16 hits, drew nine walks and were plunked twice by the nine pitchers the Herd used in the game. In two games, Marshall pitching has allowed 19 walks and hit four batters.
Wallner went 4-for-5 with a walk, while Slater had three hits. Montenegro and Gudry combined for three hits, four runs scored and five RBIs, while Bowen had a pair of hits.
Martin (0-4) took the loss, allowing four runs on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings.