Southern Miss refuses to lose, wins dramatic Sun Belt championship game over Ga. Southern

The Golden Eagles are batting 1.000 in the Sun Belt.

Southern Miss (41-18) outlasted Georgia Southern (33-26), 14-11, in a dramatic SBC title game shootout to cap a perfect run through the tournament and earn its second championship in as many years in the league.

Ozzie Pratt delivered a two-run single to put the Golden Eagles on top in the ninth inning after playing from behind the majority of the back-and-forth affair and Matthew Russo tacked on insurance with his own two-run scoring single.

“That’s up there with the greatest games I’ve ever been a part of,” Russo said after the game. “At least top two, probably one.”

Russo said the dugout had a unified mantra heading into the final frame when faced with a two-run deficit: “refuse to lose.”

That was a mindset USM used to fuel itself time after time again throughout the game.

The Golden Eagles offense plated three runs in the first and seventh and five runs in ninth inning of the game, taking the lead each time.

Georgia Southern would respond to each crooked number USM put on the board in short order, though, keeping first-year head coach Christian Ostrander’s club behind for much of the contest.

“The message was we got to win 27 outs, it doesn’t matter what the scoreboard said,” Ostrander said after the game. “I thought the guys really bought into it. I wanted that moment for the players more than anything. To see these guys out there celebrating and dogpiling, it meant the world.”

It wasn’t until the final inning that the Golden Eagles were able to hold on to the lead when Colby Allen slammed the door on GS in the final frame, earning the win in the process.

Allen was named tournament MVP after tossing two scoreless innings and sitting down six of the seven batters he faced.

Southern Miss celebrates Sunday after capturing the Sun Belt baseball championship.
Southern Miss celebrates Sunday after capturing the Sun Belt baseball championship.

The sophomore threw 5.1 scoreless innings throughout the week with five strikeouts.

Dalton McIntyre picked up four hits for USM while Gabe Broadus and Russo delivered three hits apiece. The trio scored six runs and drove in four.

Southern Miss needed come-from-behind wins in each of its last three games in Montgomery, pulling back from multi-run deficits against Troy and Appalachian State before Sunday’s comeback win.

It’s the program’s seventh conference tournament championship this century and fourth in the last six full seasons.

“It’s like euphoria,” Pratt said. “We’ve been working hard all year and we got hot at the right time... We never gave up, we just kept going. We’ve got great pitchers and great hitters. Guys that can just clear their mind and be big in big moments.”

Southern Miss defeated App State in a Sun Belt baseball tournament semifinal game Saturday to earn a shot at the conference crown Sunday against Georgia Southern.
Southern Miss defeated App State in a Sun Belt baseball tournament semifinal game Saturday to earn a shot at the conference crown Sunday against Georgia Southern.

Hot at the right time

Before Ostrander became the winningest first-year head coach in program history, the Golden Eagles were struggling to find footing in the early weeks of the season.

It took a month for Southern Miss to sweep its first opponent. The already questionably thin pitching staff lost key relievers Will Armistead, Landen Payne and McCarty English to injury.

By mid-April, the team sat at 22-14 and freshly saddled with a series loss to Georgia State. But since then, the Golden Eagles are 19-4. That includes a 13-1 mark in the critical month of May.

“Guys stepped up, whether it was on the mound or wherever,” Ostrander said. “It was also the time of the season where this group really took ownership and said ‘it’s up to us, it’s up to the players to go out there and take care of business.’ Our job then was just to direct them and get out of the way.”

The surging bullpen played a key factor in the Golden Eagles’ recent run. The unit has put up a 1.13 ERA over the last 10 games and didn’t allow a runner to cross through the first three tournament games.

Allen has played a key role in the pen. Following a rocky start to the year, he’s made seven consecutive scoreless appearances with 12 strikeouts in that span.

“We started playing and we kind of started seeing some things and finally got it in the (younger) guys’ minds that hey, this is Southern Miss, we don’t lose here,” Allen said. “We fight, we scrap. We finally figured that out. Our offense did it, our pitching — y’all have seen it with pitching. We had talent in the fall, we had it in the spring, we just finally figured it out. We figured it out at the right time.”

A contagious offense has helped, too. Slade Wilks is riding a blistering 32-game hitting streak after an ice cold start to the year, Russo is batting over .400 during May and McIntyre hit safely nine times in Montgomery out of the leadoff spot.

Now that the Golden Eagles are a lock for the NCAA tournament, all that’s left is to wait and see where the red hot Eags land next weekend.

The 16 regional host sites will be announced Sunday night and the full field will be release on Monday.