USM falls from first to fourth
By By Stan Caldwell / special to the Star
May 13, 2002
HATTIESBURG Turnabout was fair play for East Carolina University Sunday afternoon.
After handing the University of Southern Mississippi late-inning victories in the first two games of the series with a flurry of mistakes, the Pirates turned the tables on the Golden Eagles, taking an 11-7 victory in the third and final game of a big Conference USA series before 1,922 at Pete Taylor Park.
The defeat dropped USM (35-17, 18-8) into fourth place in C-USA, a game behind league-leading Houston (19-7) and a half-game behind TCU and Louisville (both 19-8).
Indeed, the Golden Eagles were charged with three errors, and could have been charged with errors on at least two other plays that were borderline, including an inside-the-park home run by ECU's Ben Sanderson in the top of the seventh inning that put the game away for the Pirates.
Sunday's game was the final home game of the season for the Golden Eagles, and they started out strong, in contrast to the previous two games.
ECU nicked USM starter Daniel Stewart for a run in the top of the third inning, when Sanderson doubled and scored on a single by Jedd Sorenson. However, USM came right back in the bottom of the third for four runs.
Jarrett Hoffpauir led off with a triple, then scored on a wild pitch from Pirate starter Jason Mandryk. Beau Griffin was hit by a pitch and Matt Shepherd got an infield single. Cook drove in Griffin with a single, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. That cost USM a run, because Brad Willcutt followed with a long two-run home run to left field.
But ECU showed signs of things to come in the top of the fourth when Clayton McCullough hit a leadoff homer to right field. However, Stewart cruised through the rest of that inning and through the fifth, thanks to a double play. The former West Lauderdale High and Meridian Community College standout ran into big trouble in the sixth, though, which is when the wheels fell off for USM defensively.
Darryl Lawhorn and Andy Stephens opened the inning with singles. The first of two errors in the inning, by shortstop Matt Shepherd, allowed Lawhorn to score. Daniel Vick walked, and Luke Cherry doubled down the left-field line, scoring two runs and bringing Stewart's day to an end.
Freshman Cliff Russum came on, but immediately gave up a run-scoring wild pitch to give ECU a 6-5 lead. The Pirates loaded the bases and Russum surrendered a run-scoring walk to Lawhorn.
USM got one run back in the bottom of the sixth when Clint Stoy drew a leadoff walk and advanced to third on a single by Clint King. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Hoffpauir to make it 7-6.
But disaster struck the Eagles in the top of the seventh. McCullough singled to open the inning, and, one out later, Cherry singled through the hole between shortstop and third base.
Russum got a strikeout, but Sanderson then hit a high fly ball to deep center field that bounced between rapidly-converging right fielder Stoy and center fielder Carlos Velasquez. When the two outfielders collided, the ball rolled slowly to the fence and Sanderson came all the way around for a three-run inside-the-park homer.
Each team scored a run in the ninth. ECU got a run on an RBI single by Kevin O'Sullivan, while USM got a two-out solo homer by Cook, his 14th of the season. Mandryk (6-2) got the win for the Pirates; Stewart (5-3) took the loss.
USM completes its regular season this weekend with a three-game series in New Orleans against Tulane. The first game is Thursday, with the second game set for Friday, both at 6:30 p.m., and the regular-season finale will be Saturday at 2 p.m. It should be a very interesting weekend in C-USA, with ECU hosting Louisville and Houston hosting TCU.