Southern Miss brought a little Pete Taylor Park Magic with them to Biloxi.
The Golden Eagles rallied from 4-0, seventh-inning deficit to force extra innings and earn a 6-4, walk-off win against Rice on Wendesday’s opening day of the Conference USA Baseball Tournament at MGM Park.
After being shut down by Rice pitching ace Matt Canterino for six innings, the Golden Eagle bats showed some signs of life in the bottom of the seventh. There, with Canterino out of the game, pinch-hitter Erick Hoard plated USM’s first run of the day and cut the Owl lead to 4-1 with a one-out RBI double.
With two-plus scoreless innings pitched by Sean Tweedy and Cody Carroll out of the USM bullpen, that score held going to the bottom of the ninth, where the Golden Eagles were an out away from playing in an elimination game. After Southern Miss loaded the bases, head coach Scott Berry called on another pinch-hitter, Storme Cooper, to keep the game going and cut into the Rice lead. Cooper, who entered the at-bat with a sub-.200 batting average in 36 plate appearances, delivered for the Golden Eagles and drove in two runs with a double down the right field line.
“Storme’s been seeing a lot more than he’s been playing a lot, so for him to come up with an opportunity there and to deliver like he did, you can’t say enough about that senior right there, especially in that moment,” Berry said.
Moments later, the Golden Eagles tied it 4-4 when Fred Franklin scored on a wild pitch.
“Energy, I’m not gonna lie, it was a little down,” junior outfielder Matt Wallner said. “But in the ninth inning, there was a light of hope, a beacon of hope.”
It carried over to the bottom of the 10th, where Wallner stepped into the batter’s box with the potential game-winning run standing at first base.
“We certainly wanted him [Wallner] up in that situation,” Berry said. “The young man is a game-changer.”
After taking two straight balls to start the at-bat, Wallner passed on Rice reliever Kel Bordwine’s third pitch, a fastball straight up the middle.
“I’m not gonna lie, I was mad about that one,” Wallner said. “I didn’t think I was gonna be able to get another one, but he threw me one a little bit more up.”
The pitch resulted in Wallner’s 20th home run of the year, as the Golden Eagles completed the comeback in walk-off fashion.
“At the end of the day, the game’s not over until that last out,” Berry said. “We saw today, you just gotta keep grinding and make something happen.
“We were one out from being done and playing at 9 in the morning. Instead, we were able to continue to find a way to get in there and tie it up and extend it. Now, we play at 4.”
Southern Miss (35-19) advances to face Marshall on Thursday. Like USM, the Thundering Herd opened the tournament Wednesday with a win in extra innings.