USM wins C-USA title
By By Richard Dark / EMG staff writer
May 26, 2003
NEW ORLEANS – This time, they would be the ones to take home the hardware. This time, they would be the ones to enjoy the traditional baseball pile-on championship celebration. And on this day, a textbook day for baseball, all the cards fell right for a team that certainly deserved it.
It's all a part of the magical season that the Southern Miss Golden Eagle baseball squad is currently engulfed in. The Golden Eagles added one more highlight to this run with a nail-biting 7-5 victory in Sunday afternoon's C-USA Tournament Championship game in front of an overflow crowd of 3,569 at Turchin Stadium, that included approximately 1,300 USM faithful.
"These kids are unbelievable," Southern Miss head baseball coach Corky Palmer shouted amidst the wild celebration. "This is real special for us, we got a lot of great efforts from a lot of kids. We were never down, but (this group) has put our program back on the map."
The day was perfect in more ways than one, as at approximately 2:40 pm, USM learned that it would be hosting its first-ever NCAA baseball regional next week in the friendly confines of Pete Taylor Park.
"I don't know if it was a slam dunk," said Palmer addressing the regional site situation. "But we deserved it with everything we had done. I congratulate the NCAA because they saw that and they rewarded us. After we found out (in the sixth inning), these kids didn't let down. They wanted to beat Tulane on this field. They knew they had something taken from them last year. What an accomplishment, a year after we were disappointed watching that (selection) show."
This year's Golden Eagles, who sport the best road winning percentage in school history, were eager to gain revenge on rival Tulane after losing here last season and being passed over for a regional berth, found the offense again just when they needed it.
With a back and forth game knotted at five, victimizing a combined half-dozen pitchers for both teams, USM's Jarrett Hoffpauir was hit by a pitch from Green Wave hurler Joey Charron. Jason Lowery singled sharply through the left side, and after Beau Griffin fouled out to third, Charron walked Matt Shepherd, loading the bases.
That's when Marc Maddox, who turned in a 2-for-3 day at the plate, that that included a pair of RBI and a wind-aided homer in the fifth, drove in his second with a sacrifice to deep center, plating Hoffpauir and giving the Golden Eagles a 6-5 lead.
But in a game of rallies, insurance was needed and Jeff Cook, who had previously come up empty in three plate appearances, provided that insurance with a single to center to provide the final margin, which put down a team that had won 33-of-35 games on this field.
"In baseball, you are going to have days where you can't seem to put the ball in play. It started off that way for me, but you got to keep your head up," said Cook. "I knew I would have a big at-bat at the end of the game. Tulane is a tough team at home, they handled us last year at home, but all year long, we have been overcoming obstacles. It was a goal to come back here for the tournament and beat them."
In the top of the ninth, Austin Tubb sewed it up to improve to 3-1 on the season, fittingly ending it when the fourth batter of the frame, C-USA Player of the Year Michael Aubry, flew out to Cook, who jumped up and pulled it in for the final out and the wild celebration, that included the season's second water dousing for Palmer, that the host team had to witness. Similar celebrations USM has had to watch many times before on this field.
Tournament MVP Clint King had a clutch 2-for-4 day for the Golden Eagles, driving in a run and putting up his 22nd-homer, which leads the team.
Aubrey and Brian Bormaster also went yard earlier in the game, to give Tulane leads. The latter was a dramatic three-run blast in the top of the third to give the Green Wave (43-17) a 3-2 lead. Aubrey's shot, which came off the first pitch of the sixth inning, gave the host team a 4-3 lead.
But according to Tulane coach Rick Jones, the reason his team finally succumbed to USM had more to do with fielding than hitting.
"Definitely, they played much better defense than we did, bottom line," said Jones, whose team committed four errors. "We are a sound defensive team, one that is nationally-ranked. We are used to just walking out there, getting the championship trophy and walking back and getting ready for the NCAAs."
The Golden Eagles at this point, certainly look that part.