Southern Miss outslugs Georgia Southern to win Sun Belt tournament title

Published 4:53 pm Sunday, May 26, 2024

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — No lead was safe except the last one Sunday in the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship game — and Southern Miss grabbed it.

The Golden Eagles scored five runs in the top of the ninth inning, then hung on to beat Georgia Southern 14-11 to win the Sun Belt Tournament for the second year in a row.

Sunday’s championship game featured six lead changes, and the teams combined for 29 hits.

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Southern Miss (41-18) clinched the Sun Belt’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, although it likely would have earned an at-large spot anyway. The Golden Eagles secured their eighth consecutive 40-win season with a victory over Appalachian State in the semifinals on Saturday and have reached the NCAA Tournament’s super regional round each of the past two seasons. This is also Southern Miss’ fifth conference tournament title in nine seasons, including three when it was a member of Conference USA.

The full 64-team NCAA Tournament field will be announced Monday at 11 a.m. on ESPN2.

Southern Miss and Georgia Southern (33-26) had eight multiple-run innings between them on Sunday. Georgia Southern hit six home runs, including two by Jarrett Brown.

The first four batters in Southern Miss’ order — Dalton McIntyre, Ozzie Pratt, Slade Wilks and Davis Gillespie — combined for eight hits and 10 RBIs.

Gillespie hit a three-run home run in the first inning, but Georgia Southern’s Sean Smith, Brown and Sean White all homered in the bottom of the first two put their team up 4-3. Sam Blancato added a two-run homer in the third inning.

The teams traded the lead in the fifth and seventh innings, with Georgia Southern taking an 11-9 lead in the latter on home runs by Brown and T,J. McKenzie.

Southern Miss had the last rally, though, and the last comeback.

Three consecutive singles, the last by McIntyre, brought in one run and a fielding error on a ball hit by Pratt scored two more to put the Golden Eagles ahead 12-11. Matthew Russo hit a two-run single a few batters later to provide a couple of insurance runs.

Blancato hit a one-out double for Georgia Southern in the bottom of the ninth, but did not get any farther around the basepaths.

Southern Miss closer Colby Allen (9-2) pitched two scoreless innings to slam the door. Southern Miss and Georgia Southern used 12 pitchers in the game, and Allen was one of only three who did not give up at least one run. Neither starter made it past the first inning.