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Southern Miss advances to C-USA championship game

HOUSTON — It was a game that lasted three hours and eight minutes and went through a total of one hour and 39 minutes of delay with a pair of weather issues, but it was more than worth the wait for Southern Miss, as the Golden Eagles defeated host Houston 10-6 in the final game of pod play of the 2010 Conference USA Baseball Championship Friday night at Cougar Field.

Southern Miss led 5-3 after six and a half innings, and appeared to put the game out of reach with five runs in the bottom of the seventh. Houston, however, scratched across a single run in the eighth and made things interesting in the ninth. Two runs scored on an RBI-double by designated hitter M.P. Cokinos and an RBI-single off the bat of right fielder Zak Presley. With the tying run on deck, Golden Eagle head coach Scott Berry went to his bullpen for the second time on the night and Seth Hester got Austin Gracey to fly out to right to end the rally and the ballgame. With the win, Southern Miss – who was already assured of a spot in Saturday’s C-USA Championship game once Memphis defeated East Carolina earlier in the day – won for the 13th time in the last 14 games against Houston dating back to 2007 to improve to 34-22 on the year. Houston concludes its 2010 season 25-32.

Southern Miss starting pitcher Jay Myrick was able to retake the mound following an hour and 15 minute lightning delay in the third inning, but after giving up a home run to Houston catcher Chris Wallace in the top of the fourth, lightning popped in the area again and the Golden Eagles were forced to go to bring in a reliever. Ryan MacNamara proved to be up to the task, hanging zeroes in his first 3.2 innings before allowing three runs over his final three outs. For the day, MacNamara scattered eight hits and three walks in 5.0 stanzas to earn the win and improve to 2-2. Hester got the save after retiring the only batter he faced.

Second baseman Taylor Walker went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBI, shortstop B.A. Vollmuth belted a two-run homer and the duo of left fielder Kameron Brunty and designated hitter Adam Doleac tallied two hits each to lead the Southern Miss charge. The Cougars opened the scoring with two runs in the top of the first courtesy of RBI-singles by Presley and Joel Ansley. Southern Miss responded in the home half of the frame with Vollmuth’s two-run bomb and a two-run single by Archer to take a 4-2 lead the Golden Eagles would not relinquish.

Wallace’s homer cut the Houston deficit to one, but USM got the run right back in the bottom of the inning when Travis Graves scored on a Walker RBI-single. It remained a 5-3 ballgame until the seventh when the Golden Eagles scored five runs on the strength of two singles, a double, a pair of walks, a hit batsmen and a key error to stretch the lead to seven and set up Houston’s late rally.

Houston actually out-hit Southern Miss, 13-12, and were led by Wallace’s 3-for-4 showing at the plate. Kelso, Presley, Gracey and left fielder Caleb Ramsey all tallied two hits on the night. Presley and Wallace shared team-high RBI honors with a pair apiece.

Barry Laird (1-3), who struck out a career-high three batters in his final collegiate appearance, was tagged with the loss after giving up five runs on nine hits and four walks in a 5.2-inning start. Mo Wiley lasted just two-thirds of an inning out of the bullpen while allowing five runs (three earned) on two hits and a walk. Tanner Shiflett went the final 1.2 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and a walk.

Southern Miss returns to action on Saturday, May 29, when the Golden Eagles take on regular-season Conference USA champion Rice in the C-USA Championship game. First pitch of that game is slated for 7:07 p.m. and the contest will be aired on CBS-College Sports Network.

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