Southern Miss advances to Sun Belt semifinals with eighth-inning comeback

Published 10:59 pm Thursday, May 23, 2024

MOTNGOMERY, Ala. — Dalton McIntyre’s biggest hit of the season wasn’t a hard line drive to the gap or a monstrous home run. It traveled about 25 feet.

McIntyre hit a high chopper off the plate that he legged out for an RBI infield single with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. It wound up as the game-winning hit as Southern Miss beat Troy 6-5 on Thursday to advance to the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

“I was just trying to move the ball in that situation,” said McIntyre, who went 3-for-5. “It’s two outs and bases loaded, you want to at least give yourself a chance to drive that run in, you want to do anything possible to just move the ball and not strike out in that situation.”

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Southern Miss (39-18), the defending Sun Belt tournament champion, was rewarded with a day off before playing either Troy (37-21) or Appalachian State (32-20-1) in the semifinals Saturday at 9 a.m.

Troy and Appalachian State will play an elimination game Friday, and the winner will have to beat Southern Miss twice to get to the championship game on Sunday.

“Rest is important, it’s a big deal. To win this tournament we’re going to need a lot more special moments,” Southern Miss coach Christian Ostrander said. “It’s a hard tournament to win if you don’t get to this point. It can be done but it’s not easy. We’ve put ourself in a good position. We have to enjoy this tonight and refocus and get ready for the next game.”

The Golden Eagles won their fourth game in a row, and are 6-1 in the Sun Belt Tournament in their two seasons in the league. They had to work for this one, though.

Will Butcher hit a two-run home run in the third inning, and Ben Arnett drew a bases-loaded walk five batters later to put Troy ahead 4-3. Butcher also delivered an RBI single in the sixth to make it 5-3.

After scoring three runs in the bottom of the second inning, Southern Miss did not score again until the eighth. Two walks were followed by Matthew Russo’s two-run double down the left field line that tied the game.

Two more walks loaded the bases for McIntyre. The speedy leadoff batter pounded a 2-2 pitch into the turf in front of home plate. The ball bounced about 25 feet into the air and landed halfway between home plate and the pitcher’s mound. McIntyre beat the throw to first as Russo scored the go-ahead run.

“We put together some good swings but couldn’t get anything to fall for those innings. We’d get just one hit an inning and not get the big hit,” said Russo, who also hit an RBI double in the second inning and finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored.

“We got into that eighth inning and coach (Ladd) Rhodes called us up and said we have six outs to get two runs, let’s just calm down and relax and play our game and that’s what we did,” Russo added. “Drew a couple of walks and I was fortunate enough to get the big hit, then Dalton does his thing and moves that ball and beats it out.”

Josh Och came out of the bullpen and retired the side in order in the ninth to earn his first save of the season for Southern Miss. Och struck out two of the three batters he faced.

J.B. Middleton and Chandler Best combined to allowed one unearned run in five innings of relief, after starter Niko Mazza was knocked out of the game after only three innings. Middleton (1-1) pitched 2 1/3 innings and got the win.

“That was big boy baseball, so very thankful for the win,” Ostrander said.