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Last Inning Homer Lifts LA Tech in Series Finale

RUSTON, La. — Southern Miss sat one out away Sunday night from a doubleheader sweep of 13th-ranked Louisiana Tech at J.C. Love Field and the lead of Conference USA’s West Division.

Then, the Bulldogs broke the Golden Eagles’ hearts.

After outlasting Tech 12-11 in the opener of a seven-inning doubleheader, Southern Miss rallied for four runs to take the lead in the sixth inning of the nightcap only to see the Bulldogs pull out a 7-6 victory on Manny Garcia’s two-run, two-out home run in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Garcia’s walk-off shot produced doubleheader split for a second consecutive day, leaving both teams where they started coming into the weekend’s four-game Conference USA series.

Tech (26-8, 12-4) retained a 1 ½-game lead in C-USA’s West Division over the Golden Eagles (22-12, 10-5).

The April split also gave the Bulldogs the season series by a 5-3 edge after Tech had taken three-of-four games from Southern Miss in March in Hattiesburg.

The opener was a slugfest decided by one of baseball’s cheapest runs.

In a game featuring 23 runs and 28 hits in seven innings, Southern Miss’ game-winning run came across on a wild pitch.

After Michael Wein singled to open the sixth inning, pinch-runner Brady Faust stole second, moved to third on a passed ball and scored on a wild pitch.

Faust’s run put USM up 12-8, which proved just enough, as the Bulldogs rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh before Garrett Ramsey got the game’s final out to pick up his eighth save of the season.

But perhaps that rally was to be expected in a game whose tone was set in the first inning.

Southern Miss tagged Tech starter Cade Gibson for five runs out of the gate, only to see the Bulldogs rough up Golden Eagles starter Ben Ethridge for four runs in the bottom of the inning.

Southern Miss led 8-4 after the top of the fourth inning and 11-5 after 4 ½ innings. But Tech, which banged out 15 hits, declined to go away, pulling within 11-8 after five innings and then leaving the potential game-tying run at second base and the winning run at first when the game ended.

Will McGillis and Gabe Montenegro drove in three runs apiece, while Reed Trimble drove in two.

Montenegro, Trimble, Wein, Blake Johnson and Dustin Dickerson each had two hits in a 13-hit USM attack.

Wein, McGillis and Johnson scored two runs apiece.

Tech slugged three home runs among its 15 hits, getting one each from Philip Matulia, Parker Bates and Jorge Corona.

Matulia, Bates, Corona, Hunters Wells, Cole McConnell and Ben Brantley each had two hits apiece. Bates drove in three runs, while Corona, Wells and Shemar Page each drove in two.

Chandler Best (1-1), the second of five USM pitchers, picked up the win, allowing a run on two hits in 2 2/3 innings. He walked one, struck out one.

Gibson (3-3) took the loss, giving up eight runs on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings. He walked two, struck out two.

The roles flipped for the meat of the nightcap after Southern Miss saw Tech erase a 1-0, first-inning lead.

The Bulldogs scored a run in each of the first three innings to take a 3-1 lead, and after the Golden Eagles pulled within 3-2 in the fifth inning, Tech bolstered its lead with two runs in the bottom of the inning for a 5-2 lead.

Southern Miss batted around in the sixth inning, scoring four times for a 6-5 lead. Slade Wilks’ pinch-hit, three-run home run tied the game and the Golden Eagles went up when Dickerson walked and eventually scored on Lynch’s infield single.

But Taylor Young, who had three hits and scored three runs, led off the bottom of the seventh inning with an infield single off Southern Miss reliever Austin Gillentine.

Gillentine got two outs on flyballs, but Garcia’s flyball didn’t stay in the park.

Garcia, who was hitless in the opener, went 4-for-4 in the nightcap with four RBIs and two runs scored.

Montenegro led Southern Miss’ 10-hit attack with a double and single, while Trimble also had a pair of hits, two singles.

Gillentine (1-1) took the loss, allowing two runs on two hits in 1 2/3 innings. He struck out one.

Crigger (1-1), who had been tagged with the loss in the opener, picked up the win in the second game, allowing only a walk in 1 1/3 innings.

Southern Miss will be off until it welcomes Western Kentucky to Pete Taylor Park for a four-game C-USA series. The opening game is set for 6 p.m. Friday.