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ULM Warhawks battle past South Alabama

The South Alabama Jaguars are headed home after just two games in a conference tournament for the first time in school history.

The No. 7 Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks defeated USA 13-8 on Thursday afternoon at Riddle-Pace Field in an elimination game of the 2009 Sun Belt Conference Baseball Championship

The Warhawks (29-26) came back from a 6-0 deficit for the win.

“We got off to a good start, but it wasn’t our day. It hasn’t been our year. It’s been a tough year,” said USA head coach Steve Kittrell. “I hate it for our seniors to go out like this. We just need to go regroup and put South Alabama back on top next year.”

USA (25-30) led 6-0 after three innings and appeared to be well on its way to victory with USA starter Matt Jackson allowing no hits through the first three innings.

However, Jackson was roughed up in the fourth inning when ULM began its comeback with a five-run fourth inning.

According to ULM head coach Jeff Schexnaider, being behind early was nothing new for the Warhawks. However, coming back from the deficit was a new experience entirely.

“The last month, we’ve gone like that,” Schexnaider said. “We’ve lost eight straight conference games and given up big innings, so it’s a tribute to our players for not giving up. Even though we were down early, they kept playing the game hard.”

Catcher Ryan McMillan drove in the Warhawks’ first run of the game when he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

The next batter, Nick Wade, ripped a single through the left side to drive in two runs.

Right fielder Perry Smith drove in two more with a double to left field that landed just in front of USA left fielder Clint Reynolds before bouncing off his glove.

After USA pushed the lead to 7-5 in the top half of the fifth inning, ULM took the lead for good with a three-run inning in the bottom half of the fifth.

Matt Collins had a two-run homer in the fifth to go along with a go-ahead RBI single from Wade.

ULM solidified its lead in the bottom of the sixth inning when Matt Collins hit a two-run home run down the line in right field and over the elevated outfield wall.

USA would get no closer than 11-8 after that, as Jaguar hitters seemed mystified by relief pitcher Drew Graham.

“We debated starting him (Graham), but we like him with the ball at the end of the game,” Schexnaider said. “We had to bring him in a little sooner. He competed real hard like he did all year long.”

Graham entered the game in the third after ULM starter Justin Anderson lasted just 2.1 innings.

USA touched up Anderson, scoring five earned runs on seven hits.

Graham, however, allowed three runs on six hits in 4.2 innings of work. He also struck out five.

Jake Overstreet led USA by hitting a pair of two-run home runs.

ULM will now take on Troy in an elimination game today at 12:30 p.m.

The Jaguars’ season is finished.

Click here for a photo gallery of Thursday’s action