GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Corey Stevens drove in three runs, reliever Jonathan Johnston pitched 3 2-3 scoreless innings and Southern Mississippi beat Florida 9-7 on Saturday in an NCAA super regional opener.
The Golden Eagles (39-24), the biggest surprise of the tournament, are one win away from their first College World Series berth.
Southern Miss won for the 11th time in its last 14 games, a hot streak that started shortly after coach Corky Palmer announced his retirement. Now, the Eagles need another victory to give Palmer a storybook send-off in Omaha, Neb.
Johnston deserved much of the credit for the latest victory. He allowed just two baserunners en route to his first win this season. Collin Cargill pitched the ninth for his 12th save.
Florida (42-21) made it interesting.
Avery Barnes singled to start the ninth and nearly beat out a fielder’s choice at second, a call coach Kevin O’Sullivan questioned. The Gators got two more hits in the inning, but sixth-year senior Brandon McArthur grounded out to end the game.
Florida’s biggest problem was taking advantage of favorable situations. The Gators had the bases loaded with no outs in the fourth, but followed with a strikeout and an inning-ending double play. They had the same scenario in fifth, but couldn’t break the game open.
Johnston did the rest. He retired the side in order in the seventh and eighth.
James Ewing had three hits and drove in two runs for the Eagles, whose first four hitters combined for eight hits, two walks, six runs and six RBIs.
Southern Miss scored first on B.A. Vollmuth’s fourth homer of the postseason, a solo shot in the second. But the real damage came a few innings later — after a 59-minute rain delay in the third inning.
The Golden Eagles — who had more than 1,000 fans make the trip to Gainesville — tagged starter Stephen Locke for three runs in the fifth, then roughed up Patrick Keating (4-4) for four more in the sixth.
Bo Davis, Ewing and Kameron Brunty started the fifth with consecutive hits. Ewing’s was an RBI double. Florida added to its woes when shortstop Mike Mooney booted a groundball with runners on first and third. Ewing scored on the error, then Brunty came home on a wild pitch to put Southern Miss ahead 5-4.
The Gators retook the lead with two runs in the bottom of the fifth, but the Eagles pulled away with the four-run sixth.
Ewing delivered an RBI single, Brunty followed with a sacrifice fly, Stevens doubled home a run and then scored on Joey Archer’s single.
Mark Long/The Associated Press