HOUSTON – Southern Miss right fielder Mason Robbins went 3-for-5, including an RBI-single in a two-run seventh inning, as the second-seeded Golden Eagles clinched a spot in the 2013 Conference USA Baseball Championship title game with a 4-2 win over No. 6 seed Houston in pod play Friday afternoon at Rice University's Reckling Park.
With the game knotted at 2-all after six innings, the Golden Eagles used a little two-out magic to go ahead for good in the top of the seventh. Golden Eagles' second baseman Isaac Rodriguez broke the deadlock with an RBI-single up the middle to plate centerfielder Dillon Day and Robbins followed with a run-scoring infield single to second which drove in designated hitter Austin Roussel for what proved to be the game's final run.
In victory, Southern Miss improved to 30-25 on the year and 2-0 in pod play. The Golden Eagles, who close out pod play on Saturday with a 7 p.m. contest against East Carolina, will play in their fifth C-USA Championship title game on Sunday when they will take on the winner of Saturday's Rice/Memphis matchup at 1 p.m. That championship contest will be broadcast live nationally on the CBS Sports Network. Southern Miss has a pair of championship titles in its history, taking home the trophy in 2003 at Tulane's Turchin Stadium and again in 2010 at Houston's Cougar Field. Houston, meanwhile, fell to 36-21 overall and 1-1 in pod action. The Cougars will conclude action in the C-USA Championship on Saturday when they square off against Tulane at 3 p.m.
Houston out-hit Southern Miss, 12-10, and took advantage of three Golden Eagle errors. The USM defense, however, turned four double plays and got stellar pitching from starter Jake Drehoff as well as relievers Daniel Wineski and A.J. Glasshof. Drehoff (5-5) earned the victory after giving up a pair of unearned runs on eight hits and a walk to go with four strikeouts in six-plus innings of work while Glasshof picked up his first save after fanning a pair and scattering three hits in 2.1 scoreless frames out of the bullpen.
Offensively, Day had a three-hit outing of his own and scored two of the Golden Eagles' runs. Rodriguez' RBI-single in the seventh extended his hitting streak to 21 games.
Southern Miss got on the board in the bottom of the first when Day hit a leadoff single to center, moved to second on a Rodriguez groundout and scored on Robbins' first RBI-knock of the day. An inning later, third baseman Bradley Roney opened the stanza by getting plunked by an off-target offering from Houston starter Daniel Poncedeleon, advanced the bases on a walk and a fielders' choice throw which saw Blake Brown get thrown out at second trying to move up on a ball in the dirt, and came around to tag the plate on a sacrifice fly to right off the bat of catcher Chase Fowler to stake the Golden Eagles to a 2-0 lead.
Following a scoreless third, Houston took advantage of a pair of Southern Miss errors on the same play to tie things up. Shortstop Frankie Ratcliff opened the inning with a single to center and came all the way around to first to score two at-bats later. Catcher Caleb Barker hit into a potential inning-ending double play with a grounder to short, but Golden Eagles middle infielder Travis Creel couldn't glove it cleanly and both runners reached as the ball skipped into centerfield. Ratcliff continued on to third base and Day's throwing attempt to cut down the lead runner was off line, and rolled into the Houston dugout.
The second error allowed Ratcliff to score and Barker to go all the way to third, and Cougars' left fielder Michael Pyeatt followed with an RBI-single to center to make it 2-2. Neither team scored over the next two stanzas, but Day sparked Southern Miss' two-out rally in the seventh with a single to left and Roussel kept things going with a base hit up the middle to set up Rodriguez and Robbins' RBI singles.
The Cougars made things interesting over the final two innings, but wasted a pair of singles in the eighth and had another two baserunners on in the ninth before Glasshof got Houston second baseman Josh Valdes to bounce into a fielders' choice groundout to second to end the ballgame.
Ratcliff and third baseman Josh Davis had three hits each to led the Cougar offense. Poncedeleon was tagged with the loss after giving up four runs on seven hits and three walks to go with a strikeout in 6.2 innings of action.