Winston holds it down on the mound for Golden Eagles

Published 12:47 am Thursday, May 26, 2016

HATTIESBURG — Southern Miss baseball didn’t click its collective cleats together three times to find out there’s no place like home.

But after suffering through a lost weekend in South Florida, where leads disappeared like sno-cones on Gator Alley midday asphalt, the Golden Eagles found it was good to be back at Taylor Park for the opening round of the 2016 Conference USA Baseball Tournament.

Senior reliever Jake Winston stonewalled Old Dominion while Southern Miss was mashed out the majority of its 17 as the third-seeded Golden Eagles rolled over the sixth-seeded Monarchs 17-5 Wednesday evening in a run-rule-shortened seven-inning game.

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No. 20 Southern Miss, which improved to 25-4 at home, won an opening-round tournament game for the first time in three years.

The Golden Eagles (37-18) will play a winner bracket game at 7:30 p.m. Thursday against the winner of Wednesday’s final opening-round game between seventh-seeded Florida International and second-seeded Marshall.

“We really feel good here, obviously, with our record,” said Winston, who came out of the bullpen with Southern Miss trailing in the second inning and gave the Golden Eagles four scoreless innings of one-hit ball.

“We wanted to make a statement Wednesday night, and our offense, golly, that was pretty unbelievable.”

ODU (32-23) will take on the FIU-Marshall in an elimination game at 12:30 p.m. Thursday.

“We just need to move forward and forget about this one,” ODU coach Chris Finwood said. “We didn’t do much of anything right.”

The Golden Eagles came within one of their single-game hit total, and they put up an eight-run fifth inning for their most productive inning of the season. The 17 runs were the most in a C-USA tournament game since 2010 when Rice beat Houston 24-3.

“We kept our foot on the gas,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “Coming off of a tough weekend at Miami (where the Golden Eagles were swept by FIU), for our guys to come out and put that weekend behind us and open up a new season in this tournament, I was really pleased, really pleased, with the way our team responded.”

Especially after ODU erased a right-out-of-the-gate, significant lead by the Golden Eagles.

Southern Miss jumped on the Monarchs for a 4-0 lead in the first inning, including a two-out, three-run home run by designated hitter Daniel Keating.

But Golden Eagles’ starter Cord Cockrell ran into his own two-out trouble, giving up a two-run homer to catcher Kyle Beam and a three-run homer to shortstop Zach Rutherford to give ODU a 5-4 lead in the second.

But Southern Miss answered right back, scoring on second baseman Chase Scott’s two-run single to take a 6-5 lead against Monarchs starter Victor Diaz (6-4).

The Golden Eagles never looked back, and the Monarchs would manage just one more hit off relievers Winston (7-1), Luke Lowery and Clay Tageant after the second inning.

“It was 6-5, and then the wheels fell off,” Finwood said.

Southern Miss padded the lead to 8-5 on bases-loaded walks to left fielder Hunter Slater and Keating in the fourth inning, and then put the game away with its eight-run fifth inning that included first baseman Tim Lynch’s first career grand slam.

“That was nice right there because we were up by three and had a chance to break it open, and we did,” said Lynch, who became the third Golden Eagle with at least 10 home runs on the season.

Center fielder Jake Sandlin added his fifth homer of the season to lead off the sixth inning for the final run of the game.

Every Golden Eagle starter had at least one hit. Center fielder Dylan Burdeaux, who had three hits and scored three times, recorded his seventh, consecutive game with at least two hits. Keating drove in a career-high five runs on two hits and a walk. Lynch _ who joined Keating and four other Southern Miss hitters with two hits _ and Burdeaux each extended their hitting streaks to 10 games.