UTSA advances to Conference USA Tournament Championship Game on Saturday night
HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Rule of thumb says baseball teams playing their fourth tournament games in four days are supposed to be pitching-depleted. Right-hander Justin Anderson proved otherwise on Saturday night at the 2014 Conference USA Tournament at Pete Taylor Park.
Anderson handcuffed No. 3 seed Southern Mississippi (35-25) for eight scoreless innings to lead the seventh-seeded Roadrunners (35-25) to a 7-0 victory in a bracket championship game.
UTSA now will face tournament top seed and No. 16 Rice (40-18) at 1 p.m. on Sunday for the right to earn C-USA's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The contest can be seen nationaly on CBS Sports Network (AT&T U-Verse 643/1643 [HD], DirecTV 221, Dish Network 158, Time Warner Cable San Antonio 315, Verizon FIOS 94/594 [HD]). The Owls won the season series against the Roadrunners two weeks ago in San Antonio.
UTSA broke open a scoreless game in the seventh inning and then put it out of reach with a five-run eighth inning.
“That was a clutch performance,” head coach Jason Marshall said. “That was a big-time performance and Justin led the way. He put the zeroes up and allowed us to compete and stay in the ballgame as long as we were in it. Finally, we got the hits late. Justin did a great job and it was another great pitching performance.”
Anderson became the third UTSA pitcher to go at least eight innings in the tournament, joining Brock Hartson (Wednesday) and Nolan Trabanino (Thursday).
Anderson, who left the game after allowing Michael Gilbert’s single to lead off the ninth, scattered six hits, while walking four and striking out five.
He twice wriggled through bases-loaded jams, getting right fielder Mason Robbins to fly out to end the third and designated hitter Matthew Durst on a ground out to end the fifth.
“There was a lot of effort,” Anderson said. “I was starting to get tired after the seventh inning, but I was just telling myself to keep going. The offense kept fighting, and finally in the seventh inning, they put up those two runs. That was big time.”
Like Rice, the Roadrunners will be playing for a second consecutive conference tournament baseball crown. UTSA won a Western Athletic Conference title last year before moving into C-USA for all sports this past fall.
The host Golden Eagles forced a second game with UTSA with a ninth-inning run in an 8-7 win earlier Saturday.
“Our bats just didn’t come around,” Southern Miss head coach Scott Berry said. “We had several opportunities, but it was going to take a big hit and Anderson took that away from us. That is what good ones do. He is a pretty good hand for them.”
USM starter Jay Myrick (1-2), making his first start of the season, matched Anderson (4-5) through the first six innings, as neither team could push a run across.
“I can’t say more about Jay Myrick, a guy who hasn’t had many opportunities out there,” Berry said. “For him to go out in his last game and give us the performance he did. I am very appreciative of that.”
Myrick allowed a sharp single to center fielder Jesse Baker to lead off the seventh inning and the Golden Eagles turned to a bullpen that couldn’t hold off the Roadrunners.
After Baker was bunted over to second base, Luke Lowery walked left fielder Logan Kinder and then gave up a single to second baseman C.J. Pickering.
That brought in freshman Cooper Jones, who was making his first appearance since April 15. Right fielder John Welborn skied a two-run single to right field for the game’s first runs.
Southern Miss got out of the inning with no more damage, but it could do nothing with Anderson, going 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning.
The wheels came off in the eighth for the USM bullpen, as three pitchers were tapped for five runs. Back-to-back doubles by catcher John Bormann and Baker opened the inning for a 3-0 lead and two more hits, a hit batsman, bases-loaded walk and wild pitch finished off the scoring.
Second baseman Nick Dawson and third baseman Michael Gilbert had two of USM’s six hits, while Welborn, Baker and Bormann had two apiece for UTSA.
Game 1: Southern Mississippi 8, UTSA 7
When in doubt, Southern Mississippi tends to turn to Bradley Roney. The junior closer, who went three innings to close out a win-or-go-home victory on Thursday, went 3.2 innings on Saturday afternoon, stifling UTSA long enough for the Golden Eagles to pull out an 8-7 win in the ninth inning at the 2014 Conference USA Tournament.
Roney also wound up scoring the game-winning run as a pinch runner in the ninth inning on center fielder Connor Barron’s fielder’s choice grounder with the bases loaded.
“I'm really proud of our team and the way we came out and competed,” USM coach Scott Berry said.
Third-seeded Southern Miss (35-24) overcame three errors and seven walks by three pitchers not named Roney to force a second game with the seventh-seeded Roadrunners (34-25) on Saturday night.
For USM, which had to beat UTSA or see its season end, Saturday afternoon was a see-saw ride.
UTSA starter Cody Brannon got the first two outs in the first inning but then fell apart.
He gave up a single to right fielder Mason Robbins, walked designated hitter Matt Durst and gave up a run-scoring single to first baseman Dylan Burdeaux. Brannon then hit third baseman Michael Gilbert to load the bases, walked catcher Austin Roussel to make it 2-0 and end his afternoon.
However, Cody Carroll, who dodged trouble through the first two innings, couldn’t get out of third for the Golden Eagles.
Nine-hole hitter C.J. Pickering singled to the hole with one out and right fielder John Welborn hit a big chopper that Gilbert threw into right field trying to get Pickering at second.
After striking out shortstop Horacio Correa, first baseman Mike Warren walked to load the bases, and third baseman R.J. Perucki dropped a two-run single into left field in front of a diving Breck Kline.
Catcher John Bormann hit a run-scoring single to center to give UTSA a 3-2 and finish Carroll. Nick Johnson came in, threw 16 pitches, walking three batters and forcing in two runs for a 5-2 UTSA lead.
All five runs were unearned.
Southern Miss batted around in the top of the fourth inning to score five runs as well.
Second baseman Nick Dawson hit an RBI single and shortstop Michael Sterling’s fielder’s choice got USM within 5-4 before Robbins drove a double into the left-center field gap to put the Golden Eagles back on top.
Gilbert’s sacrifice fly made it 7-5.
UTSA tacked on an unearned run in the fifth when center fielder Jesse Baker scored on left fielder Logan Kinder’s single that Barron bobbled and then threw wildly into the infield.
The Roadrunners tied it in the sixth, loading the bases with one out on a walk, single and intentional walk.
Enter Roney (2-0).
Bormann tied the game with a sacrifice fly, but Roney got out of the jam with a tapper back to the mound.
UTSA managed just one baserunner in the final three innings, as Roney allowed just one hit while striking out four.
UTSA relievers Matt Sims and Jeremy Filipek checked the Golden Eagles through four scoreless innings until the ninth.
Durst coaxed a leadoff walk from Filipek (2-1) and moved to second on Burdeaux’s bunt. After walking Gilbert, Fliipek gave way to Boone Mokry.
Roussel poked a seeing-eye single through the hole at shortstop to load the bases, and on a 2-2 count, Barron cracked a hard grounder that Warren speared to save from right field and got a force out at second base.
However, Roney scored on the play, and in the ninth, he sandwiched a strikeout around two fly balls.
Dawson had three of USM’s 10 hits, as the bottom of the Golden Eagles’ order went a combined 6-for-14 against UTSA. Welborn had two of the Roadrunners' eight hits.