MOBILE — After spotting host South Alabama an early 4-0 lead on Thursday night, the Troy Trojans battled back to tie the game late, but that was where the Jaguars’ much maligned bull pen slammed the door, earning USA a 6-5 victory.
Troy tied the game in the seventh inning and was threatening to take the lead when South Alabama coach Steve Kittrell turned to junior right-hander D.D. Hanks (3-0). The Trojans were never able to solve Hanks, who struck out five of the 10 hitters he faced over the final 2 2/3 innings to get the victory.
South Alabama (24-27, 12-15) kept its hopes of a berth in next week’s Sun Belt Tournament alive with the win. The Trojans (31-20, 17-9) saw their four game league win streak come to an end.
“South Alabama came to play tonight,” Troy coach Bobby Pierce said. “They want to get into the tournament and know that, in order to do that, they have to win some games. Give them a lot of credit.
“At the same time, I am disappointed in the way our club played tonight. We looked like we were still asleep at the hotel for the first three innings. We were able to come back, and that is something I like, but we have to come out ready to play from the start.”
South Alabama jumped on top by scoring four times in the second inning off freshman Tyler Ray, with six singles and a sacrifice fly. None of the Jaguars hits in the inning were hard enough to knock the glove off a defender, but all were hit to perfect spots into or through the infield.
“South Alabama got 15 hits tonight, and 12 of them were off Tyler, which is something no one else has done,” Pierce said. “I don’t think there was a single one of those 12 hits that were hit hard. They were all chop ground balls through the infield of bloops into the outfield.”
The Trojans got their first hits, and scored their first run, off Jaguars starter Miles Ethridge in the fourth inning, but squandered a chance to add more. Chad Watson and Charley Williams opened the frame with consecutive singles. Watson scored on a ground out by Trevor Tyre, but Williams was left stranded when Ethridge struck out Ryan Ditthardt and Brett Henry consecutively to get out of the inning.
Troy continued to chip away in the fifth inning, scoring twice after consecutive doubles by Miles Hoyle and Michael Precise to start the frame. Hoyle had to hold at third after the ball hit by Precise just eluded the glove of USA leftfielder Clint Reynolds. Hoyle scored on a ground out by Bart Pettus and then Precise scored on a single by Watson.
South Alabama got a run back in the bottom of the inning when David Doss hit a 3-2 pitch from Trojans freshman Tyler Ray over the wall in left for his 11th homer of the year.
Tyre answered that homer in the top of the sixth, hitting the first pitch from Ethridge out for his 11th of the season.
Troy knotted the score at 5-5 in the seventh off reliever Phillip Byrd. Chad Watson led off the inning with a bunt single and then scored from first on a Williams double to the gap in left center. Williams was left stranded at third for the second time when Hanks came on to get the Jaguars out of trouble.
“It seemed like we left 17 runners on base tonight,” Pierce said. “We had a lot of complaints on the strike zone that it was wide, but it was the same for nine innings and you have to be able to make some adjustments.”
South Alabama regained the lead in the seventh inning off Troy’s Andrew Dickinson (2-1). Adam Heisler reached on a one-out single. Dickinson got Doss to foul out and appeared set to get out of the inning before Bohanan delivered a single to left to score the go-ahead run.
The Trojans had just nine hits in the game – three by Watson and two by Williams. Bohanan led the South Alabama attack with four hits, all singles.
The Trojans will try to get the second game of the series on Friday night when senior left-hander Travis Burge goes to the mound to start. He will be on a strict pitch count of 45-50 pitches as the Trojans look toward the Sun Belt Tournament.
South Alabama will counter with junior right-hander Matt Jackson. The first pitch from Eddie Stanky Field is set for 6 p.m.