C-USA baseball tournament begins in dramatic fashion

In Hattiesburg, Miss., the opening round of the 2014 Conference USA baseball championship began Wednesday morning, hosted by the University of Southern Mississippi at Pete Taylor Park for the fourth time in league history.

This year’s championship features the top eight teams from regular season in a two double-elimination bracket with a single elimination championship game and marks the first time in league history that every team in the tournament produced a record of 30 or more wins during the regular season.

The C-USA champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning, stellar pitching helped fourth-seeded Middle Tennessee State as they defeated fifth-seeded Old Dominion 3-2 Saturday morning in the opening round of the tournament.

The Blue Raiders (31-25) increased their lead to 3-0 in the fourth inning, but in the fifth, the Monarchs (33-23) came to life. MTSU pitcher Zac Curtis allowed two runs for the Monarchs, cutting the deficit to 3-2. Neither team scored through the next three innings.

In the ninth inning, with bases loaded and one out, Old Dominion attempted to score. Nevertheless, MTSU pitcher Matt Blackham received his first career save against Old Dominion to get the win.

Meanwhile, top-seeded Rice University rolled past Florida International University 9-2 in game two of the opening round of the tournament.

The 16th-ranked Owls (38-17) collected 15 hits against three FIU pitchers. From the start, the Owls controlled the game, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in the third inning. Then, in the fifth, Rice increased its lead, earning four runs on the inning.

In the sixth inning, the Panthers (36-19) managed to earn a run after three consecutive hits from FIU. However, Rice proved to be too much for FIU, scoring three more runs on the inning to give them a 9-1 advantage.

The Owls held the Panthers to one run before they scored again in the seventh inning as the final run for the game.

Rice will face fourth-seeded Middle Tennessee (31-25) at 4 p.m. today in a winners’ bracket game.

The eighth-seeded Panthers (36-19) will meet fifth-seeded Old Dominion (33-24) today in a 9 a.m. elimination game.

Facing off in game three, seventh-seeded University of Texas at San Antonio upset second-seeded University of Alabama-Birmingham 4-1 Wednesday afternoon.

UTSA pitcher Brock Hartson played a big role in the upset, allowing five baserunners, two hits, a walk and a hit batsman through eight innings. In addition, he struck out 12 batters, the second-most in C-USA tournament history behind Tulane’s Jason Navarro against Cincinnati in 1997.

Neither team scored through the first three innings, but UTSA set the tone for the game in the fourth inning, scoring three runs. Shortstop Horacio Correa III hit a single toward the right field. From there, R.J. Perucki blasted a RBI double, putting players on second and third base and allowing Correa to score to give UTSA a 1-0 advantage.

Then, Jesse Baker hit a RBI-triple down the left-field line followed by Tony Ramirez followed with a single to right field, allowing the Roadrunners to increase their lead to 3-0.

Over the the next three innings, both teams failed to score. In the eighth, UTSA (33-24) catcher John Bormann blasted a RBI-single, allowing Mike Warren to score and giving UTSA a 4-0 lead.

The Blazers (35-20) only score of the game came in the ninth inning after third baseman hit a single down the right field line, allowing Ryan Prinzing to score.

UTSA will face sixth-seeded East Carolina in the winners’ bracket game today at 7:30 p.m., while UAB will take on Southern Miss today at 12:30 p.m. in the elimination game.

Third-seeded Southern Miss fell short against sixth-seeded East Carolina, losing 9-8 in extra innings Wednesday evening.

Going into the seventh innings, the Southern Miss trailed ECU (33-24) 8-4 mainly due to committing a season-high six errors, which lead to four unearned runs for the Pirates.

The Golden Eagles (32-24) committed a season-high six errors, leading to four unearned runs, and contributing in large part to their 8-4 deficit going into the bottom of the seventh inning.

Despite the issues, Southern Miss fought back. In the seventh, the Golden Eagles scored on two runs off of Dylan Burdeaux’s two-out single. Then, in the eighth, Nick Dawson hit a sacrifice fly, allowing Connor Baron to score and cut the Pirates lead to 8-7.

From there, the Golden Eagles tied the game in the ninth inning. Following a scoreless tenth inning, things went down hill for Southern Miss.

In the top of the 11th, USM relief pitcher Sean Bucholz walked three batters, including back-to-back bases-on-balls, allowing East Carolina the game-winning run.

With its league-leading, 14th one-run victory, ECU moves on to face seventh-seeded UTSA today at 7:30 p.m., in the winners’ bracket game. Meanwhile, Southern Miss will face second-seeded UAB in an elimination game today at 12:30 p.m.

Game Schedule

Friday, May 23

Game 9 Winner Game 5 vs. Winner game 6 (3:00 p.m.)
Game 10 Loser Game 7 vs. Loser game 8 (6:30 p.m.)

Saturday, May 24
Game 11 Winner Game 7 vs. Winner game 9 (9:00 a.m.)
Game 12 Winner Game 8 vs. Winner game 10 (12:30 p.m.)
Game 13 Same teams as Game 11 4:00 p.m. (if necessary)
Game 14 Same teams as Game 12 7:30 p.m. (if necessary)

Sunday, May 25 (televised by CBS Sports Network)
Championship Game (1:00 p.m.)

By Wilton Jackson

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