HOUSTON-East Carolina scored three runs in both the seventh and eighth innings as the Pirates finished pod play of the 2013 Conference USA Baseball Championship with an 8-7 win over No. 2 seed Southern Miss on Saturday evening at Rice University's Reckling Park.
With the win, East Carolina wrapped up its 2013 season improving to 31-26. Southern Miss, meanwhile, fell to 30-26 but will play biggest game of its season on Sunday when the Golden Eagles take on host and top-seeded Rice (40-17) in the C-USA Championship title game at 2 p.m. (ET) That game will be televised nationally on the CBS Sports Network.
Second baseman Bryan Bass, shortstop Jack Reinheimer, right fielder Jay Cannon and centerfielder Philip Clark had two hits each to pace a 12-hit East Carolina offense. Reliever Andy Smithmyer (3-1) picked up the victory after striking out four and giving up just one hit in 1.2 innings of work out of the bullpen. Drew Reynolds, who went 1-for-4 with an RBI as the Pirates' starting designated hitter came on the ninth and earned his 14th save of the year.
After three scoreless innings to open the ballgame, East Carolina drew first blood in the fourth. Reynolds and third baseman Zach Houchins were both hit by an off-target offering from Southern Miss starter Paxton King and first-baseman Chase McDonald singled to left centerfield to load the bases. Left fielder Chris Gosik drew a walk to plate the first run of the contest and Reinheimer made it a 2-0 affair with an RBI-single to right.
Southern Miss left a combined five men on base over the first five innings and saw another runner thrown out trying to steal, but broke through in a big way in the sixth. Catcher Austin Roussel - who went 3-for-5 with a trio of doubles - got things going with a leadoff two-base hit, designated hitter Mason Robbins was hit by a pitch and third baseman Bradley Roney singled to load the bases, and left fielder Blake Brown cut the deficit in half with a sacrifice fly to left. One out later, first baseman Jared Bales reloaded the bases with a walk and shortstop Michael Sterling put the Golden Eagles up 3-2 with a two-run double to the gap in left central.
East Carolina reliever Jake Harris intentionally walked centerfielder Dillon Day set up a potential double play, but the move backfired as second baseman Nick Dawson ripped a three-run double to left centerfield and cap a six-run inning.
Undaunted, the Pirates started the comeback in the top of the seventh as Reinheimer and Cannon hit back-to-back singles to open the frame, Clark made it three straight hits with an RBI-knock through the right side of the infield and catcher Sam King followed with a sacrifice fly to center.
Bass tied the game an inning later with a run-scoring single between third and short, Reynolds plated the go-ahead run via a single through the left side of the infield and Houchins provided what proved to be a big insurance run with a sacrifice fly to right.
Down a pair in the bottom of the ninth, Southern Miss made things interesting as Roussel greeted Reynolds' pitching debut in the contest with a double down the right-field line. Two outs later, Brown made it a one-run ballgame with a double of his own but Reynolds responded with a strikeout to cap the action.
Lost in the offensive slugfest was the starting effort of Paxton, who entered the game tossing just four appearances and 3.1 innings under his belt. The southpaw went 6.0 innings for the Golden Eagles, striking out three while giving up five runs on six hits and a pair of walks. Jake Winston (2-2), the fourth of six pitchers to toe the rubber for Southern Miss during the contest, was saddled with the loss after giving up two runs on as many hits and a walk without recording an out.