Southern Miss ran out of gas, and the University of Alabama baseball team stepped on the pedal.
The Golden Eagles (3-1) and the Crimson Tide (3-1) had gone back and forth for six innings, but Alabama all but ended the contest with five runs in the seventh inning. That pushed Alabama to an 11-5 lead and an eventual 12-5 win on Wednesday night at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
“(Southern Miss) wasn’t going to give in,” head coach Greg Goff said. “I have a lot of respect for Coach Berry and Southern Miss. They have a tremendous program, and I’ve competed with them quite a bit. No score was safe. That’s why we told our guys to keep scoring.”
The USM bullpen fell apart in the seventh inning, burning through four pitchers to get out of the inning. Cody Henry led off the seventh with a double and UA eventually loaded the bases with one out. Shortstop Chandler Avant was hit by a pitch to start the scoring, and Southern Miss’ pitching eroded from there.
There was a bases-loaded walk, a sacrifice fly, a balk and a single that did the rest of the damage in the seventh. Alabama added another run in the eighth, but the game was decided by then.
There were three lead changes and one tie before that seventh inning put Alabama in control. Southern Miss trailed 5-1 after two innings but fought back to tie the game at 5-5 in the fifth.
“They’re a really good team and have some really good arms coming out of the pen,” second baseman Cobie Vance said. “We just knew we had to stand our ground. Coach Wells, he kind of told us what was going to happen. They were going to come in spinning balls. They came in a couple times and our guys held our ground.”
Alabama scored five runs in the second to chase USM starter Taylor Braley from the game. Avant doubled to score two runs while Gene Wood grounded out and scored a run. Hunter Alexander blasted a home run over the left field wall that easily carried over into a parking lot to score two more.
That big inning was quite a bounce back for Alabama, which loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the first but failed to score.
“Our assistant coaches, Coach Wells and Coach Simmons did a great job with us yesterday. They’re always on top of everything. It’s great having them with us, and they’re right behind us supporting us.”
Braley’s early exit paved the way for six more USM pitchers who struggled to carry their team the rest of the way. Six of the seven Golden Eagle pitchers allowed a run; the other faced only one batter.
Avant finished 3-4 with three RBIs and two doubles, while Vance was 3-4 with a double and two RBIs. Nine players recorded a hit, but all 12 RBIs came from the top four hitters in the lineup. Alexander drove in three runs. Freshman righty Davis Vainer closed out the final three innings to earn the save.
“A lot of courage with our hitters,” Goff said. “A lot of guys that hadn’t played a lot stepped up tonight. You look at everybody we used, it took everybody tonight to beat a really good Southern Miss team.”