HOUSTON, Texas (WTVA/USM Athletics) - Southern Miss jumped out to an early advantage but had to hold off a ninth-inning Houston rally to defeat the Cougars 6-5 in winning a share of the Conference USA regular-season championship Saturday afternoon.
The Golden Eagles (28-25 overall, 15-9 in C-USA), which shared the title with Rice for the second time in the last three seasons, will be the No. 2 seed in next week's C-USA Tournament at Reckling Park on the campus of Rice University, beginning Wednesday.
The Conference USA Tournament is "pod"-based, with two groups of four teams playing round robin games Wednesday-Saturday. The top teams from each "pod" after the round robin games will meet in the championship game on Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
On Saturday, Southern Miss outhit the Cougars 14-11 and got three hits each from Isaac Rodriguez, Bradley Roney and Chase Fowler , while Blake Brown added a couple of hits. The Golden Eagles built a 5-2 advantage after three innings as Rodriguez started the scoring in the first by belting his second homer of the season, a two-run just inside the left field foul pole. After UH tied the score in the bottom of the frame, Southern Miss added a sacrifice fly by Dillon Day and then got a two-run double from Fowler in the third.
The Cougars, which got two hits from five different players, cut the gap with a run in the bottom of the third and did not really threaten again until the ninth.
USM starter Jake Drehoff (4-5) scattered nine hits over eight innings, giving up three runs on one walk and five strikeouts to earn the victory. Drehoff finished his outing by enticing a double play to end the eighth after UH got a couple of hits in the frame.
The Cougars then rallied for two runs in the ninth on Roney, the USM closer, as he allowed four of the first five UH hitters to reach base. Cody Livingston then came on with the bases loaded and already with a run in and gave up what looked to be a shallow single to right field to Josh Vidales. Mason Robbins, though, threw a bullet to second to force the runner out for the second of the frame and allowed just one run to score.
Livingston then struckout Kyle Survance to end the game and register his first save of the year.
Houston starter Aaron Garza allowed five runs on six hits with a walk and a strikeout to suffer the loss and fall to (5-5).
Brown added his team-high ninth homer in the seventh for the Golden Eagles final run.
Southern Miss will face Tulane (Wednesday, 3:00 p.m.), Houston (Friday, 3:00 p.m.) and East Carolina (Saturday, 7:00 p.m.) in round robin play at the Conference USA Tournament.