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USM takes key win over East Carolina

By By Stan Caldwell/Special to The Star
May 11, 2002
HATTIESBURG First blood goes to the Golden Eagles.
The University of Southern Mississippi took the first game of a critical Conference USA baseball series Friday night with a 12-7 victory over East Carolina University before a crowd of 2,039 at Pete Taylor Park.
USM (34-16) won its fifth straight game and eighth in the past nine games. More importantly, the victory kept the Golden Eagles in a first-place tie with Houston for the league lead at 17-7 in conference play. Fifth-place ECU dropped to 35-14-1 and 14-10-1.
The Golden Eagles used two big innings to put away the Pirates, who came into the game ranked 22nd in the nation in the ESPN/USA TODAY poll and 24th in the Baseball America rankings.
An eight-run sixth inning broke open what had been a tight pitcher's duel between USM's Shea Douglas and ECU's Davey Penny. Until then, however, it looked like fortune would smile on the Pirates.
ECU touched Douglas (10-1) for a run in the top of the first on a solo home run to right center field by Darryl Lawhorn. Penny made that run stand up for awhile, thanks to excellent defense through the first five innings. The Eagles hit into double plays in each of the first three innings and had a runner thrown out at second base.
Lawhorn made it 2-0 in the top of the second with an RBI single after Jedd Sorenson had singled and reached second on a fielder's choice. Lawhorn, who came in second in C-USA with a .415 average, was a thorn all night for the Eagles, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs.
USM's game-winning rally in the sixth started innocently enough, with Carlos Velasquez getting hit by a pitch. He stole second, then, after a flyball out, Jeff Cook reached on a walk.
Brad Willcutt followed with a double to score Velasquez, but Cook was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first base for the second out of the inning. It didn't matter, because Penny was forced to leave with a sore arm, and reliever Neal Sears (6-2) failed to retire any of the four batters he faced, all of whom scored.
Two ECU errors contributed to the big inning for USM. Clint Stoy and Jarrett Hoffpauir each had RBI singles, and Cook drove in two runs with a single to cap the inning.
ECU came right back in the top of the seventh with five runs. Lawhorn drove in two runs with a bases-loaded single to end Douglas' night, and Adam Stephens drove in two more runs with another single off reliever Stephen Castleman.
After the rough start, however, Castleman settled down and stifled the Pirates the rest of the way.
USM got some breathing room in the eighth with a four-run rally. Jason Lowery and Clint King each drove in two runs with singles in the inning.
King finished the game with four singles in five plate appearances, while Beau Griffin and Stoy each had a pair of singles for USM. Sorenson had three singles for ECU and Stephens had a pair of singles.
The two teams hook up again today in the second game of the series, beginning at 3 p.m.