Golden Eagles grab catbird’s seat with 4-1 win over La. Tech

USM earns day off, needs 1 win Saturday to reach 5th consecutive C-USA baseball tourney title game
Baseball(Josh Auzenne/WAFB-TV (custom credit) | WAFB)
Updated: May. 28, 2021 at 2:33 AM CDT
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RUSTON, La. (WDAM) _ When it came to talk of University of Southern Mississippi pitching this season, much of the attention had been focused on its starting rotation.

Thursday night, in one of the linchpin games of the 2021 Conference USA Baseball Championship, it was the Golden Eagles’ bullpen turn to take a bow.

Three USM pitchers held No. 18 Louisiana Tech University to a run on six hits and Will McGillis drove in two runs with a pair of RBI-singles as No. 16 USM topped the home-standing Bulldogs 4-1 at J.C. Love Field.

Ryan Och worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth inning on his way to turning in a season-best four scoreless innings and Hurston Waldrep got the last two outs of the game facing the top of the Tech batting order.

With the win, the third seed Golden Eagles (37-16) earned a day off, and will await Saturday the winner of Friday’s 6:30 p.m. elimination game between second seed La. Tech (37-17) and sixth seed Western Kentucky University (27-28).

The win also put the Golden Eagles in the driver’s seat on their side of the eight-team bracket.

Either Tech or Western Kentucky would have to beat USM twice on Saturday for the Golden Eagles not to earn a spot in Sunday’s championship game.

USM has appeared in the C-USA title game in each of the past four tournaments, winning titles in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

The tournament was not held in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thursday night, USM scratched out a 2-0 lead after four innings against Bulldogs starting pitcher Jonathan Fincher, who had lost just one game all season.

Reed Trimble singled to drive in a run in the second inning and McGillis drove in the other in the third.

But USM starter Walker Powell, C-USA Pitcher of the Year, ran into trouble in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Jorge Corona led off the inning with a walk and moved to second on a single by Alex Ray.

Powell got Corona at third base on a bunt by Taylor Young, but Hunter Wells followed with a single to right field that scored Ray and sent Young to third.

When Powell walked Parker to load the bases, Och was summoned from the pen.

Powell lasted 4 1/3 innings, allowing a run on four hits. He walked four and struck out three.

Och and Tech’s Manny Garcia hooked up in a 10-pitch duel, with Och catching Garcia looking at strike three. Och then struck out Cole McConnell to end the inning.

Och (7-0) and the Golden Eagles got some breathing room when Charlie Fischer put USM ahead 3-1 with a run-scoring single in the seventh and McGillis drove in the game’s final run in the eighth.

Och went four innings, allowing two hits. He walked none and struck out six.

Both those hits came In the ninth inning, when Och allowed leadoff singles by Philip Matuila and Corona before getting a strikeout for the first out.

With the top of the Tech order coming to the plate, USM turned to Waldrep, who was making just his ninth appearance of the season.

The freshman struck out Young and got Wells to ground out to second base to pick up his second save of the season.

USM finished with 12 hits, including three apiece by McGillis and Danny Lynch. Fischer had a pair of singles as well.

Fincher (7-2) took the loss, allowing four runs on 11 hits in seven innings. He waked two and struck out four.

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