March 9, 2014
EL PASO, Texas - The University of Southern Mississippi earned an opening weekend Conference USA series victory with an 11-7 win over UTEP at Helen of Troy Field in El Paso, Texas. For the Golden Eagles, it was the first opening weekend series win since taking 2-of-3 from Marshall in 2006 in Hattiesburg. The series win marked the first time since 2002 when USM swept Houston that Southern Miss won an opening weekend C-USA series on the road.
The Black and Gold produced 11 runs on 12 hits, including a pair of home runs. Sarah Evans finished the day 4-for-4 with four runs batted in, a run scored and her first collegiate home run. Samantha Robles joined Evans with four RBI as the true freshman delivered a pinch-hit grand slam - the first grand slam of the year for the Golden Eagles. Eight total batters finished the game with at least one hit with Mackenzie Sher joined joining Evans as the only players with multiple hits on the day. Morgan McKeever, Selena Estrada and Arielle Pollock paced the team with two runs scored each.
In the circle, Shelbee Rodgers picked up her team-leading fifth win of the season. The junior surrendered seven runs (three earned runs) on nine hits in 7.0 innings of work. Rodgers fanned four batters while walking just two.
Southern Miss was the first team to plate a run, scratching the scoreboard in the top of the first inning. With one out, McKeever drew a walk to give the Golden Eagles their first base runner of the day. Katie Cleary reached on a fielding error, leaving USM with runners on first and second. Estrada singled up the middle, driving home McKeever and giving Southern Miss a 1-0 lead.
UTEP answered with a run in the bottom half of the first inning. The leadoff batter singled to left field and moved to second on a wild pitch. The Miners used a one-out walk to leave runners on the corners. The home team knotted the game at 1-1 with a RBI single to the shortstop.
The Golden Eagles regained the lead with three runs in the fourth inning. Estrada began the inning with a walk. She advanced to second as Pollock dropped down a bunt single down the third base line. With two on and no outs, Evans lifted a 0-1 pitch over the left center field fence for her first collegiate home run. The home run put the Black and Gold in front 4-1.
Southern Miss extended its lead with a seven-run explosion in the top of the fifth inning. McKeever once again drew a walk to give the Golden Eagles a base runner. Sher followed with a single up the middle. Mikayla Davis entered the game at first base to run for Sher. Cleary advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt. Estrada walked, loading the bases for USM. Taylor Beck pinch hit for Pollock and drew an RBI walk. After Pollock re-entered the game to run, Evans singled to right field, scoring Davis. On the play, the UTEP right fielder mishandled the ball, allowing Estrada to score as well. Meaghen Nelson re-loaded the bases with a walk. With the bases juiced, Robles stepped to the plate as a pinch hitter. The true freshman cleared the bases with one swing, hitting the first grand slam of the season for the Golden Eagles.
UTEP rallied in the bottom of the fifth inning to prevent the run-rule victory for Southern Miss. The Miners benefited from three Golden Eagle miscues to score four unearned runs in the inning. The first two batters reached on errors, leaving the home team with runners on second and third with no outs. UTEP loaded the bases with a walk and a groundout to second base drove in the first run of the inning. The next batter reached on the third error of the inning, advancing to second on the play. Two runs came across to trim the Southern Miss lead to 11-4 and force at least one more inning. With runners on second and third, UTEP used a sacrifice fly to left field to cut the deficit to 11-5.
In the sixth inning, the Miners cut the Golden Eagles' advantage to four with a pair of runs. Back-to-back singles started the inning for the home team. The next batter placed a bunt in between a pair of USM infielders allowing the lead runner to score. UTEP loaded the base with a bunt single. With the bases loaded the next batter hit a ball to first base. Evans quickly threw the ball home to eliminate the lead runner. The next batter drove home a run with a sacrifice fly, but a foul out ended the inning and the threat.
In the final inning, Southern Miss used back-to-back strikeouts to quickly record two outs. Rodgers secured the victory by inducing a ground out to third base, sealing the 11-7 series clinching win.
Southern Miss returns to action next week hosting Alcorn State in a three-game midweek nonconference series before playing host to Middle Tennessee over the weekend. Live stats and in-game tweets (@USMSoftball) will be available for each game.