Southern Miss clinches sixth C-USA championship

Published 11:12 pm Thursday, May 19, 2022

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — It wasn’t as smooth a road as it once looked, but Southern Miss finally arrived at the destination it wanted.

Slade Wilks homered to jump start a decisive four-run rally in the sixth inning, and Southern Miss defeated Middle Tennessee 9-4 on Thursday to clinch the Conference USA regular-season baseball championship.

The victory, combined with Charlotte’s 11-3 win over Louisiana Tech, gave Southern Miss (39-14, 21-7 C-USA) a three-game lead in the league standings with two left in the regular season.

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Southern Miss clinched its sixth regular-season Conference USA championship and will be the top seed when it hosts the league tournament next week at Pete Taylor Park. USM will exit Conference USA after this season to join the Sun Belt Conference.

The Golden Eagles lost six of nine games before taking the last two from UTSA last weekend and the opener of this series. Their once-comfortable lead in the standings got as low as one game but they’ll finish on top with room to spare.

Similarly, Thursday’s victory was not the easiest. Middle Tennessee (29-22, 17-11) took a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly by Eston Snider.

Then, in the sixth, Wilks led off with a home run to tie it and the Golden Eagles rallied for three more runs with two outs. Gabe Montenegro put them ahead with a two-run single and he later scored on a passed ball to make it 7-4.

Wilks doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning and Dustin Dickerson scored on a double steal in the ninth to pad the lead.

Wilks finished 3-for-5 with a double, home run, three RBIs and two runs scored. Montenegro had two hits, two RBIs, and two runs scored.

Matthew Adams pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings to earn the win out of the bullpen. Former Hinds Community College star Garrett Ramsey pitched three scoreless innings for his fourth save of the season.

“With nine walks, a couple of hit by pitches, a couple wild pitches, a couple of passed balls and the four errors, you don’t win many games,” Middle Tennessee coach Jim Toman said. “And usually the score is worse than that. But that’s why they’re good, they get better as the game goes on with their pitchers, they’ve got a pretty good staff.”