Seventh inning dooms Southern Miss in C-USA Tournament opener

Published 3:45 pm Wednesday, May 23, 2012

PEARL — Like many catastrophes, the top of the seventh inning for Southern Miss began with only a minor indication of trouble. It quickly escalated to a state of alarm, then panic, disaster control and, finally, resignation that the cause was lost.

Memphis sent 14 men to the plate and scored nine runs in the half-inning that lasted nearly a half-hour. When the smoke cleared, the Tigers were well on their way to a 14-3 rout of Southern Miss in the opening game of the Conference USA Tournament Wednesday at Trustmark Park.

“That was one of the worst things I’ve been a part of,” said Southern Miss third baseman Bradley Roney, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI. “We walked a couple guys early, and that hurt us, then they found every hole possible. Credit them for putting the ball in play and finding holes. There wasn’t much more we could do after that. It’s like the floodgates opened, and when that happens, somehow you have to get a stop. And we just didn’t get the stop we needed.”

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The loss put Southern Miss’ back to the wall not only in the tournament, but for its season. The Golden Eagles need to win the league tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and must now win their last two games in Pearl to have any chance of that.

Southern Miss (30-24) plays Houston at 3 p.m. Thursday, and Rice on Saturday night at 7.

Memphis (30-26) will play Rice on Thursday at 7 p.m., in a matchup that could determine a spot in the championship game.

“We’re going to have to get some help, no doubt,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “Memphis is going to have to lose a couple and we’re going to have to win two. That’s the bottom line. The only thing we can control right now is ourselves. We’ve got to take what we didn’t get done today, or what happened today, and come out tomorrow a little upset and play like that.”

Wednesday’s game was close until the seventh. Southern Miss had scored twice in the bottom of the fifth to take a 3-2 lead, and starting pitcher Andrew Pierce seemed to be in control. The C-USA Newcomer of the Year had allowed four hits — one of them a two-run homer by Jacob Wilson — to that point.

Pierce didn’t last much longer, though. He gave up a leadoff double to Eli Hynes at the end of a long at-bat, hit Derrick Thomas with a pitch and gave way to Cody Livingston. That started a parade of pitchers that wore out a path from the left field bullpen to the mound.

Livingston hit a batter and walked in a run. He was quickly replaced by James McMahon, who walked the first batter he faced and then gave up four straight singles. Matt Warren was next and finally got out of the inning, but not before giving up an RBI single to Tucker Tubbs that gave Memphis an 11-3 lead.

Memphis added three runs in the top of the eighth and won by the 10-run mercy rule. It was the first run-rule shortened game in the C-USA Tournament since 2006.

It was also Memphis’ ninth straight C-USA win, sixth straight win overall, and 12th in 14 games.

“For our offense to come together, to string that many hits together, that many runs, it’s something that doesn’t really happen much in college baseball nowadays,” Wilson said. “For us to do something like that, I think it shows a lot about how we’ve been playing the last couple weeks. We came out and carried what we had into the tournament.”

Wilson went 2-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs scored, and the first five batters in Memphis’ order went a combined 11-for-23 with nine RBIs and nine runs scored.

Blake Brown went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs for Southern Miss, and Ashley Graeter was 3-for-4.