It was a disastrous fifth inning.
USF baseball was down 4-1 against Southern Miss going into the inning, but one error, one wild pitch and three pitchers later, the Bulls were looking at an 8-1 game and were headed toward their sixth loss in six games.
The decisive inning started off with sophomore Matt Ingram walking Brad Willcutt. After the walk, an error by second basemen Mike Choquette allowed a runner to reach first and Wilcutt to advance to second. The next batter up laid down a sacrifice bunt, which put the runners on second and third.
“There was a runner on first who was not a good runner, and the ball was hit up the middle to Choquette’s backhand side and then he just dropped it.” USF coach Eddie Cardieri said. “He got his glove on it easily and he dropped it before he could flip it to Myron (Leslie).”
A wild pitch by Ingram scored a run as well as putting another runner in scoring position. Jarrett Hoffpauir drove in the runner with a double, forcing Cardieri to make a pitching change by replacing Ingram with junior Tim Mattison.
“Southern Miss is a good hitting club, for starters,” Cardieri said. “(Matt Ingram’s) command was not good.”
The pitching change did not do much to change the tone of the inning. Jason Lowery singled off Mattison’s first pitch, putting another runner in scoring position. Another sacrifice bunt brought in the third run of the inning. Lowery came in on a single up the middle, giving Southern Miss their fourth and final run of the inning. Another single forced another pitching change, Mattison was replaced by left hander Steve Palinkas who was able to retire the last batter.
Neither team scored after the fifth inning. The Golden Eagles (39-13, 21-6 C-USA) did not need any more runs, they scored one run in the first inning to open the game, then three runs in the bottom of the third when Wilcutt hit a three run home run over the left field fence.
The Bulls only run came in the top of the fifth due to a string of mistakes made by their opponents. A balk and a wild pitch put senior Mike Cunningham on third, and a throwing error by the shortstop allowed Cunningham to score.
With 11 players left on base, and only five hits, USF dropped their third straight game to Southern Miss who is No.1 in Conference USA, and No. 23 in the nation, according to Baseball America.
USF dropped Friday’s game 2-1 when two solo home runs late in the game pushed the Eagles past USF’s one run lead. The first home run came in the eighth when Matt Shepherd hit one over the left field fence to tie the game up. The winning home run was hit over the left field fence by pinch hitter Matt Benson in the ninth inning with two outs on the board. Benson is 5-for-14 this season, getting on base five of those times. Friday’s home run was his second of the season.
Saturday’s 12-2 game was an even more decisive Golden Eagle victory. Southern Miss scored 12 runs in six innings before the Bulls could get on the board. A five-run fifth inning put the Golden Eagles up by 11, more then enough to keep the Bulls at bay.
Sunday’s loss marks the sixth loss in a row for the Bulls, who have been struggling in conference play. One of those losses came at the hands of Stetson University, who the Bulls will play in DeLand Tuesday. The Hatters have already beaten the Bulls twice at Red McEwen Field this season.
“We are disappointed, but we are still going out there and playing,” Cardieri said. “All of us are really disappointed, but all we can do is try to come out of this slump, swing ourselves out of it.”