Talk about your rebounds.
A day after Louisiana Tech University rallied to take the opening contest of a three-game Conference USA baseball series, 13th-ranked University of Southern Mississippi pounded out a 16-1 victory Saturday at Pete Taylor Park.
The Golden Eagles banged out five home runs among their 14 hits, including a pair by Matt Wallner, and set themselves up to clinch Sunday a second, consecutive regular-season C-USA championship.
Should USM (36-13, 20-5 C-USA) take Sunday’s 1 p.m. rubber match from Tech (34-18, 17-9) it would leave the Golden Eagles with no worse than a 3 ½-game lead with just three conference games left to play.
“It ought to be interesting,” USM third baseman Luke Reynolds said. “We’re playing for a championship.”
Reynolds, who came up with a pair of defensive plays that helped the Golden Eagles out of a jam in the fourth inning, smacked his 13th home run in the first inning to jumpstart the USM offense.
USM scored in every inning except the fifth and ended the game an inning early with a four-run, eighth that brought the conference’s 15-run rule into play.
“(Friday), we missed out on opportunities, and (Saturday), we cashed in on them,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “(Saturday), we showed back up. The momentum, we had it the whole time.”
Wallner hit his 12th and 13th home runs, a three-run shot just to the right of center field in the sixth inning and a solo homer in the eighth. Wallner also had a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning as he tied his season high with five runs batted in.
Hunter Slater knocked in four runs, cracking a three-run home run in the third inning for his ninth on the season and a run-scoring double in the eighth inning.
After Reynolds’ homer in the first, the Bulldogs would score their lone run in the second inning when Tanner Huddleston hit his seventh of the season.
But Casey Maack, making only his 12th start of the season, put the Golden Eagles back ahead 2-1 with his second home run of the year in the bottom of the inning.
“They got us good, and there’s no other way to chalk it up,” Louisiana Tech coach Lane Burroughs said. “We gave up home runs. You look at the scoreboard, and there’s only one inning they didn’t put up runs. Bottom line was we didn’t keep them in the park.”
Slater led USM’s offense with three hits. Wallner, Reynolds, LeeMarcus Boyd and Mason Irby each had two hits. Irby extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a sixth-inning single.
USM starter Walker Powell (6-2) allowed just a run on six hits over seven innings. He walked none, struck out six and got inning-ending double plays in consecutive innings.
Tech starter Logan Robbins (7-1), brother of former USM standout Mason Robbins, allowed seven runs on five hits over three innings.
It was the first loss Robbins had suffered in three seasons, following an undefeated career at Jones County Junior College.
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