And that they did, beating No. 17 Rice, 7-3, to clinch a share of the 2011 C-USA Baseball regular-season crown. It was the first time in the league's 16-year history that co-champions were crowned as Southern Miss ended tied with the Owls after beating them in the series finale. It marks the Golden Eagles' first regular-season title since the 2003 campaign.
Seniors Marc Bourgeois and Mark Ellis, both native Canadians who were honored pregame with the playing of their national anthem, responded with three and two hits, respectively. Fellow senior Tyler Koelling added two additional hits as the Golden Eagles tallied 14 in the contest.
Like the two previous days, Southern Miss fell behind early, this time by the score of 2-0 after Michael Ratterree delivered a run scoring single in the first and Craig Manuel added an RBI single of his own in the third.
That was all that the Owls (38-18 overall, 16-8 C-USA) could muster off of Golden Eagle starter Jonathan Thompson who limited the visitors to a pair of runs on eight hits and one walk with three strikeouts over five innings to garner the victory and improve to 7-1 on the season.
Isaac Rodriguez got the Golden Eagles going in the fourth with a RBI double to leftfield and the home squad then the Golden Eagles pounded out four runs in the fifth to take the lead for good.
Southern Miss started the fifth with four straight hits off of Rice starter John Simms (3-2), who allowed a leadoff single to Kameron Brunty. The next batter, Koelling, doubled home Brunty and then went to third on a B.A. Vollmuth single. Bourgeois then delivered a single to center that tied the score ending Simms day.
After a pair of outs, Ellis hit a line drive over Keenan Cook's head in leftfield to score clear the bases and make the score 5-2.
Simms allowed five runs on nine hits with seven walks to suffer the loss. The Golden Eagles added two more runs in the sixth on a two-run triple by Ashley Graeter.
Rice scored its final run in the seventh. After Cook reached base and went to second on a throwing error by Graeter, J. T. Chargois notched an RBI single off of reliever Josh Thomason.
That was the only run and hit off of Thomason who threw three solid innings of relief which included two strikeouts, while senior Collin Cargill, who made his 101st career appearance, finished fanned two of the three batters he faced to end the game in the ninth.
The Golden Eagles (38-15, 16-8) will take the No. 2 seed in next week's C-USA Baseball Championship presented by Trustmark. The tournament will utilize two four-team pods. In the Southern Miss pod will be No. 7 Tulane, No. 6 Houston and No. 3 East Carolina. The Golden Eagles will play each of those teams on consecutive days, beginning Wednesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Miss., beginning at 7:30 p.m., each day.
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Read more in Sunday's NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.