May 20, 2009
HATTIESBURG -- Before the first game of his final Conference USA baseball tournament, outgoing University of Southern Mississippi coach Corky Palmer was presented an SUV provided by donors and the university.
A few hours later, his Golden Eagles gave him their version of a going-away present.
First baseman Joey Archer cranked out three hits and drove in four runs as tournament host USM pounded archrival Tulane 15-2 in eight innings Wednesday night in the final game of the opening round
It not only was USM's largest margin of victory over Tulane in a conference tournament game, but the Green Wave's worst conference tournament loss in 28 years.
Tulane coach Rick Jones could only shake his head at the evening's outcome.
"What a night for Corky," Jones said. "They beat us like this and he gets a new car.
"They really took it to us. We never got out of the gate and they swung the bats."
Fifth-seeded USM (33-22) collected 15 hits in a game shortened by the 10-run mercy rule.
"We came out ready to play," said Palmer, who had announced his retirement after 12 seasons on April 30. "I thought we had as much fire as we've had all year. The crowd was tremendous.
"The big deals to me was Archer's three-run homer and (right-hander Todd) McInnis getting out of what could have been a damaging deal that could have left them back in the game. It could have been a different game."
Those two events came on flip sides of the first inning.
Tulane senior right-hander Jonathan Garrett (5-4) didn't make it out of the first inning, as USM rocked him for four runs -- three earned -- on four hits and a walk..
Three weeks earlier, Garrett had tossed a complete game against the Golden Eagles, holding them to two runs on five hits, with 13 strikeouts and only one walk.
But with two outs in the first, center fielder Bo Davis hit a deep, slicing drive down the right-field line that Drew Allan dove for and missed. The speedy Davis had rounded third base and was halfway down the line, when coach Chad Caillet signaled to hit the brakes.
When the throw came into third base, Davis decided to break for home, sliding head first ahead of the throw. The play ignited the 3,028 on hand as well as the Golden Eagle dugout.
"Bo set the tempo really early and we just kind of rolled with it from there," Archer said.
The junior then added to USM's beat, following a single and a walk with a drive that hit the top of the left-field fence and bounded over for his ninth homer of the season and a 4-0 nothing lead.
In the bottom of the first, McInnis loaded the bases on two hits and a walk with no outs, but a double-play grounder and a strikeout got C-USA's pitcher of the year out of the inning with only one run surrendered.
"I think I got a little too anxious going out there, trying to do a little too much with my pitches instead of just getting them over the plate and battling," McInnis said of his start. "That double play was huge and gave us a little bit of momentum."
After that, while USM piled up the runs, McInnis (8-4) cruised, shutting down the fourth-seeded Green Wave (32-24) on four hits and a walk over the next five innings.
Six Golden Eagles had multiple hits, including designated hitter Corey Stevens, who finished with three hits, four runs scored and two RBIs. Left fielder Kameron Brunty also scored four times and drive in two runs, while shortstop B.A. Vollmuth and catcher Travis Graves had a pair of RBIs each.
Designated hitter Jared Dyer and second baseman Seth Henry each had two of Tulane's seven hits. With USM holding an 11-1 lead, Dyer's solo homer of USM reliever Cody Schlagel extended the game in the seventh inning, but the Golden Eagles added four runs in the top of the eighth to notch an opening-round win for the fifth consecutive year.
USM will have little time to celebrate, meeting top seed East Carolina (42-15) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
"We play one of the better teams in the country (Thursday)," Palmer said. "There was a lot going on (Wednesday) and I hope we can just bottle some of it."
Tulane will play at 12:30 p.m. in an elimination game with eighth-seeded UCF (22-34).
HATTIESBURG -- Central Florida tried its hardest to make it two years in a row where the lowest seed toppled the regular-season champion in the opening round of the Conference USA baseball tournament.
East Carolina simply refused to let it happen.
Catcher Jared Avchen's two-run double keyed a four-run, seventh inning as the top-seeded Pirates rallied for a 6-3 victory over the eighth-seeded Knights Wednesday evening at Pete Taylor Park.
"I think it kind of slaps you in the face a little bit, gets your attention," ECU coach Billy Godwin said. "It doesn't matter how much I tell them, because I knew it was probably going to be this type of game of game. So, I think does (help).
"You want to play your best baseball this time of the year, but you also win and move on."
ECU (42-15), which won its second C-USA regular-season baseball title to earn the No. 1 seed, will play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday against the Tulane-University of Southern Mississippi winner.
The Pirates, who own the second-most wins in Division I and are ranked as high as No. 15 in the national polls, came into the tournament knowing they had to play well to solidify a shot at hosting a tournament of their next week, an NCAA Regional.
"We're very aware of it, and we still take every game the same way," said Avchen, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games. "But everybody knows that we have great fans, and we'd love to play in front of them. It would be huge, not only to sleep in our beds, but it would be a huge advantage to play in front of our fans.
"This was a big game, all the way around."
ECU, which led the league in hitting and pitching this season, relied upon its arms to keep it in the game while it waited for its bats to come around.
Starter Chris Heston gave up five hits -- two of them solo home runs -- as UCF (22-34) held a 2-0 lead through 5 1/2 innings. Designated hitter D.J. Hicks connected in the second inning and first baseman Kiko Vazquez went deep in the fourth.
The two shots gave the Knights a single-season record 68 home runs.
After ECU reliever Kevin Brandt (8-1) came on to quell a bases-loaded, one-out threat in the top of the sixth, Pirate left fielder Stephen Batts tied the game with his team-high 14th home run of the season off UCF right-hander Caleb Graham (4-3).
The Knights came right back, grabbing a 3-2 lead in the seventh on shortstop Eric Kallstrom's single, but ECU rallied in the bottom of the inning.
Singles by shortstop Dustin Harrington and third baseman Drew Schieber set the plate for Avchen, who ripped a one-out, Heston curveball off the wall in left-center field to give ECU a 4-3 lead.
"I got what I was looking for," Avchen said. "He had started everybody off-speed the whole game and that was the third time he had started me off with a curveball."
Hicks relieved Heston, and was greeted by a run-scoring double from center fielder Trent Whitehead. With two outs, Batts drove in his third run of the game with a single.
UCF fell into the elimination bracket and will play at 12:30 p.m. against the Tulane-USM loser.
"It was a tremendous college baseball game," UCF coach Terry Rooney said. "At the end of the day, East Carolina came up with a few bigger hits and a few bigger plays."
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