Golden Eagles use the long ball to slide past South Alabama to Regional Title game
HATTIESBURG - Taylor Braley's solo home run in the fifth inning was big for Southern Miss.
Tracy Hadley's home run three batters later was even bigger.
The two powered a four-run surge that helped lift the top-seeded Golden Eagles to an 8-3 victory over third-seeded University of South Alabama as Southern Miss seized control of the Hattiesburg Regional.
The victory before 4,237 sent Southern Miss (50-14) into a 1 p.m. game Monday as the sole undefeated team in the regional at Pete Taylor Park.
"A lot of big moments in that game, and very proud of our guys," Southern Miss coach Scott Berry, who has led the Golden Eagles to the first 50-win season in school history.
"We now advance to (Monday), and stay in the winner's bracket."
It's only the second time the Golden Eagles have won the first two games of a NCAA Regional, matching the 2009 ballclub's start. The win also marked a three-game sweep of the Jaguars this season, with Southern Miss winning both ends of home-and-home regular-season series.
South Alabama (40-20) fell into the elimination bracket, and had to face second-seeded Mississippi State University (37-25) Sunday night. The winner of that game will meet Southern Miss at 1 p.m. Monday.
A second game, if necessary, was set for 6 p.m. Monday.
"We just couldn't get the big hit that we've been used to getting for pretty much the past 30 games or so," said South Alabama coach Mark Calvi, who saw the Jaguars outhit the Golden Eagles 12-7 but strand a season-high-tying 15 baserunners.
Braley came up big at the plate and on the mound. The junior drove in a pair of runs, doubled and homered and scored twice.
As starting pitcher, Braley (7-2) allowed three runs on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings. He walked two and struck out four.
Braley, Berry and Calvi all agreed that a change in approach on the hill, particularly mixing in a change-up more generously after the opening few innings, kept the Jaguars off rhythm.
Five of the eight hits off Braley came in the first three innings, including four in the first inning.
"Really, was just mixing it up, not throwing a whole lot of fastballs after the first few innings," Braley said.
Stevie Powers, Nick Sandlin and Hayden Roberts combined for a scoreless 3 1/3 innings to close out the Jaguars.
Braley gave Southern Miss 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly, but Colton Thomas caught up with a Braley fastball and sent it over the fence for a 2-1 Jaguar edge after one inning.
Southern Miss took the lead for good in the third inning off USA starter Tyler Carr (7-2).
Matt Wallner singled to tie the game, and a batter later, Hunter Slater hit a sacrifice fly that put the Golden Eagles ahead 3-2 edge.
Braley launched his 17th home run of the season over the scoreboard in left-center field off reliever Zach Melton for a 4-2 lead with two outs in the fifth inning.
But Southern Miss was not done. Wallner was hit by a pitch, Slater walked and Hadley followed with his second home run of the season and the third of his career just over the left edge of the center-field wall for a 7-2 lead.
"He gave me one over the plate, and I got a good swing on it," Hadley said. "I mean, could you tell by my smile?
"It felt good. I've been up and down this whole season, and I haven't really been hitting very many barrels and that one felt good."
USA left fielder Dylan Hardy, who collected three hits for a second consecutive game, drove in a sixth-inning run with an RBI-single that got the Jaguars within 7-3.
But Braley doubled and Wallner added his second, run-scoring single in the seventh inning for to cap the scoring.