USM completes Memphis sweep
By By Stan Caldwell / special to the Star
May 6, 2002
HATTIESBURG There is nothing like a big inning to warm a baseball coach's heart.
So Corky Palmer was a happy camper Sunday afternoon after his University of Southern Mississippi team scored eight runs in the seventh inning to overtake the University of Memphis 9-4 in the third and final game of a Conference USA series before a crowd of 1,955 at Pete Taylor Park.
The victory completed a weekend sweep of the Tigers for USM (33-16), and kept the Golden Eagles in a first-place tie with Houston for the league lead at 16-7. Memphis dropped to 15-28 and 7-17.
It was Cook who delivered what proved to be the game-winning hit, a two-run double that put the Eagles ahead for good in the decisive seventh.
Indeed, USM and Houston lead a pack of five teams that are within two games of the league lead. Still, for a long time Sunday, the Golden Eagles didn't look like a first-place team. After giving up 27 runs and committing eight errors in the first two games of the series, the Tigers showed some claws behind left-hander Ryan O'Malley.
Memphis opened strong by scoring two runs off USM starter Charlie Rogers in the top of the first. Paul Cookman singled, then went to second on a sacrifice and scored on a single by Josh Payne, who took second on the throw to the plate. Payne then came home on a single by Brent Dlugach.
The Eagles answered in the bottom of the first when Jarrett Hoffpauir was hit by a pitch, went to third on a double by Cook and scored on a sacrifice fly by Brad Willcutt. The Tigers added another run in the second on a single by Justin Thomas, who went to second on a sacrifice. Cookman followed with a double on a sinking liner that USM right fielder Clint Stoy managed to catch on a diving play, but couldn't hold onto when he hit the ground, moving Thomas to third. He then came in to score on a sacrifice fly by Paul Reuer.
Memphis increased its lead in the fourth inning, loading the bases after a walk and consecutive singles. That brought Palmer out to get Rogers in favor of former West Lauderdale standout Daniel Stewart, who surrendered a run on a wild pitch, but then settled down and caged the Tigers the rest of the way.
It still didn't appear to be enough as O'Malley cruised through the first six innings. He was helped by splendid defense and sloppy base-running on the part of the Golden Eagles.
Jason Lowery opened the fateful seventh with a one-out single and went to third on a single by Griff Israel. Matt Shepherd drove in one run with a double, Beau Griffin scored Israel on a groundout to third, then Velasquez drove in a run with a single to tie the game and chase O'Malley (4-4).
But the departure of their best pitcher exposed the Tigers' big weakness, a shaky bullpen, and the Eagles took full advantage. Matt Krabbe walked Hoffpauir on four pitches, then Gabe Council gave up Cook's double into the gap in right-center field.
USM then loaded the bases, and pinch-hitter Clint King applied the coup de grace by sweeping the bases clean with another double. In all, the Eagles sent 12 men to the plate in the inning.
USM will get most of this week off to prepare for a big series next weekend at home against East Carolina, which split a doubleheader with Saint Louis Sunday to remain two games off the lead. The Golden Eagles complete the regular season the following weekend at Tulane.