HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Matt Durst capped a five-run six inning with a grand slam to lift Southern Miss to an 8-6 Conference USA baseball victory over No. 11 Rice here Sunday afternoon at Pete Taylor Park/Hill Denson Field to salvage the final game of the three-game series.
The Golden Eagles (26-19 overall, 14-7 C-USA) rallied from a pair of deficits in the contest to strengthen their hold on second place in league. Southern Miss now trails the Owls (31-15, 18-6) by two and a half games in the C-USA standings.
"We just needed (the win) not only for the conference standings, but we needed it for our confidence," said Southern Miss coach Scott Berry. "We knew it was going to be tough against Rice. It always is. But (the sixth inning) was a pivotal inning for us. Rice doesn't usually give you a lot of that. But we worked for it and we earned it."
With Southern Miss trailing 4-3 in the sixth, Nick Dawson and Connor Barron led off the inning with back-to-back singles. Michael Sterling then loaded the bases with a bunt single on the third base side. Tim Lynch followed by being hit by a pitch by Rice reliever Chase McDowell, knotting the contest at 4-4.
McDowell was then replaced by Matt Ditman on the mound. After throwing 3 1/3 scoreless frames on Friday, Ditman was greeted by Durst on the first pitch with a drive to leftfield that got caught in the wind that was blowing to left and collected his fifth home run of the campaign. It was his first Golden Eagle grand slam and second for the team in 2014.
The Golden Eagles were also down 3-1 in the fourth when Austin Roussel drew a one-out walk from Rice starter Jon Duplantier. The right-hander ended up walking the bases loaded, giving Barron and Sterling free passes as well, and left the game with two outs in the fourth. McDowell entered the game and Lynch drove a 1-1 pitch to rightfield to plate two runs, to end the game with three RBI.
Southern Miss also scored the game's first run in the opening inning on a RBI single up the middle by Mason Robbins, driving Lynch who was hit by a pitch.
The Owls scored solo runs in six separate innings in the contest, including solo home runs from John Clay Reeves in the fifth, his fourth of the year, and Michael Aquino in the eighth, for his second of the season.
USM reliever Luke Lowery, the third of five Golden Eagle pitchers, improved to 3-0 with the victory allowing a run on a hit with a strikeout over 2/3 of an inning.
McDowell (3-4) suffered the loss for Rice, giving up four runs on four hits with a pair of strikeouts in 1 1/3 innings.
The Golden Eagles return to action Wednesday when they travel to Oxford to face nationally ranked Ole Miss in a 6:30 p.m., contest. It will be Southern Miss' final non-conference game of the regular season.