RUSTON, La. – Four shutdown innings from Second Team All-Conference USA reliever Ryan Och helped Southern Miss notch a 4-1 victory on Thursday night in the second round of the 2021 Air Force Reserve Baseball Championship at J.C. Love Field at Pat Patterson Park.
The No. 2 seed Bulldogs (37-17) will now play in an elimination game on Friday night against No. 6 seed WKU. The projected start time for the evening matchup is 6:30 p.m. The Hilltoppers knocked off No. 7 seed UTSA in extra innings to avoid elimination and advance to the third day of the tournament.
With the bases loaded and just one out, Southern Miss brought in Och after LA Tech chased Conference USA Pitcher of the Year Walker Powell in the bottom of the fifth. Och's first batter was Bulldog cleanup batter Manny Garcia. Garcia fouled off five pitches in the 10-pitch at-bat before Och dropped in a breaking pitch for a called strike three on a 3-2 count. The left-hander then recorded another strikeout to strand three Diamond Dogs in the fifth.
Facing a 4-1 deficit in the bottom of the ninth, right fielder Philip Matulia and catcher Jorge Corona smacked back-to-back singles off Och to bring the tying run to the plate with nobody out. Och recorded the first out before handing it over to Hurston Waldrep for the final two outs of the ballgame. Och moved to 7-0 after allowing just two hits with seven strikeouts over four scoreless innings before Waldrep nailed down his second save.
LA Tech left 10 runners on base in Thursday night's defeat. The Bulldogs were held to just a single run for the first time since a game against No. 1 Arkansas on March 13.
"We're playing really good defense, and I thought Taylor made a really good play tonight," head coach Lane Burroughs said. "In the outfield, our guys have been playing well.
"Phil threw the guy out trying to stretch out the double. Our guys will ready to play, and we will get some rest and then come out ready to play. We haven't faced Western [Kentucky], and they haven't seen us either. I'm excited about playing tomorrow already, and I know our guys will be ready."
LA Tech tallied its only run of the ballgame behind Hunter Wells' RBI single through the right side in the fifth. Shortstop Alex Ray, who helped turn two double plays for the Bulldogs, trotted on home from second base after recording a single to left center earlier in the inning.
Left-hander and Bulldog ace Jonathan Fincher battled all night long, allowing four runs over seven innings to take LA Tech deep into the game. Fincher hurled 102 pitches and struck out four Golden Eagles in his 15th start of the season.
Matulia tallied his 12th multi-hit game of the season after tallying a pair of singles. Leadoff batter Taylor Young recorded his 16th double in Thursday night's defeat.
Southern Miss (37-17) scored all four of its runs behind RBI singles, two of which came from seven-hole hitter Will McGillis. Southern Miss scored a single run in the third, fourth, seventh and eighth innings to notch the tournament victory.