HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) _ Gabe Montenegro came up with a nice start to the game when he sent the first pitch he saw Friday night over the fence in left-center field for the 10th home run of his University of Southern Mississippi baseball career.
Montenegro managed to top that in his final at-bat of the night.
The junior outfielder ripped a two-run double just inside the first-base bag in the bottom of the eighth inning that rallied USM to a 6-5 victory over the University of Connecticut at Pete Taylor Park.
Garret Ramsey struck out the side in the ninth inning to preserve the win and pick up his first save as a Golden Eagle.
“His first at-bat and his last at-bat were two special at-bats,” USM baseball coach Scott Berry said of Montenegro’s effort. “What a great at-bat, that last one.
“Two strikes, and he yanks that double down the line.”
It was just the sixth and final hit of the game for the Golden Eagles (3-2), who used seven walks and three hit batters to stage rallies.
UConn (1-3) outhit USM, raking in 10 hits on a comfortable yet windy evening at the park. Three of those hits went for home runs, all solo jobs and all off USM starter Hunter Stanley.
Stanley was tapped for nine hits over 6 2/3 innings, giving up five runs and leaving the game trailing 5-4.
Given the blustery conditions and an offensively-talented UConn team, Berry said he thought Stanley pitched pretty well.
“He minimized the damage, holding them to solo home runs,” Berry said. “What did he have, no walks, nine strikeouts. That’s pretty good.”
USM’s strikeout-to-walk was outstanding, with Stanley, Ramsey and Ryan Och (1-0) combining for 14r strikeouts against one walk.
Three Huskies’ pitchers struck out nine Golden Eagles, but also passed out seven walks, free passes that would come back to hurt them.
UConn stater Ben Casparius probably deserved a better fate, but holding a 3-1 lead through four innings, he walked D.J. Lynch and Dustin Dickerson to open the bottom of the fifth inning.
He then allowed a run-scoring double by outfielder Reed Trimble and a two-run double by Christopher Sargent to give USM a 4-3 lead.
Still, Casparius stuck it out through seven innings, allowing four runs on five hits. He walked five and struck out seven.
“Coming in, we knew the UConn pitcher was pretty good, so we wanted to work him, get him out of the game as soon as possible,” Montenegro said.
By the time Casparius left, UConn had not only tied the game on solo shot by Christian Fedko in the sixth inning, but taken the lead on a sacrifice fly by Any Hague in the top of the seventh inning.
Reliever Kenneth Haus (0-1) came on in the eighth inning and with one out, walked Blake Johnson and pinch-hitter Michael Wein on nine pitches.
Haus then got ahead in the count on Dickerson, but eventually hit the Golden Eagles’ nine-hole hitter to load the bases.
Haus was lifted in favor of left-hander Caleb Wurster, and Montenegro got the pitch he was looking for and turned on it.
“We knew he had a pretty good slider, so that’s what I was looking for, a slider, in,” Montenegro said. “A slider on the outside, there’s no way I’m reaching that. So, I was just looking for it on the inside, and sure enough, I got one.”
UConn took a 1-0 lead in the first on a bizarre turn of events that after the arguing ceased and the smoke cleared, allowed Hague to score from second base on a sacrifice fly to right field.
Montenegro tied the game in the bottom of the inning, but UConn took a 3-1 on solo home runs by the Winkel brothers in the third inning. Chris Winkel’s leadoff shot to open the frame gave the Huskies the lead, and three batters later, Pat Winkel lofted another solo homer.
Och picked up the win, allowing a hit and walking one in 1 1/3 innings. Haus took the loss after allowing two runs on two walks while striking out one.
The teams will meet at 1 p.m. Saturday in the second of the three-game set.