OXFORD, Miss. (AP) – Playing in an NCAA regional is nothing new for Maine. An unexpected power surge helped the Black Bears learn what it’s like to finally win one.

Joe Hough homered to lead off a huge first inning and Maine hit four home runs in a 12-2 rout of Southern Mississippi on Saturday in an elimination game in the Oxford Regional, the Black Bears’ first win in the NCAA tournament in 14 years.

“It’s been a while since we had a chance to taste victory at the NCAAs,” Maine coach Paul Kostacopoulos said. “I’m just really proud of these guys, proud of the program, proud of the school. We’re just enjoying it.”

Maine (35-18) is making its 14th appearance in the field of 64 but its first since going 0-2 in 2002. The Black Bears hadn’t won in the tournament since they advanced to the championship round of the regional they hosted in 1991.

One day after being dominated by top-seeded Mississippi, Maine jumped on Southern Mississippi for six runs in the first inning. Ace Steve Richard made sure the Golden Eagles couldn’t mount anything resembling a serious threat in helping lead the Black Bears to another win-or-go-home game Sunday against the Mississippi-Oklahoma loser.

“Once we got up by six with our ace on the mound, we knew we were in good shape,” said Ryan Quintal, who added a two-run homer in the eighth.

Curt Smith and McGraw hit back-to-back homers in the third, and three players flirted with the cycle. McGraw and Hough each finished a triple shy of the cycle, while Smith needed a double.

In addition to his home run, McGraw doubled home two runs in the first and singled in the fifth. Hough followed his homer with an infield single later in the inning, then had another infield hit in the third and a double in the sixth.

“Any time you can get six runs in the first inning, it takes a lot of pressure off (Richard),” Hough said. “We said we wanted to score first – that’s obvious. We just did a great job of putting the ball in play, picking guys up.”

Smith led off the seventh with a triple to right-center and scored Maine’s 10th run when second baseman Trey Sutton’s throw sailed out of play.

Richard (9-1) allowed five hits and permitted just one Southern Miss baserunner to reach third in 6 2-3 innings, before reliever Scott Robinson gave up two runs in the eighth.

“With that lead, you really didn’t have too much pressure on you,” Richard said. “It was just a matter of going out there and throwing strikes.”

The Black Bears might want to schedule more games in all sports in the state of Mississippi.

Maine’s football team shocked Mississippi State last September in one of the season’s most surprising upsets, and the school’s baseball team – which played only 14 home games and, Kostacopoulos had said, practiced only six times on its home field – matched that feat by stunning highly rated Southern Miss.

The second-seeded Golden Eagles (41-21), who lost to Oklahoma on Friday, gave up a season-high 18 hits and went two-and-out in a regional for the second time in six NCAA appearances and the first time since going 0-2 in 1991.

“It’s not the ending we wanted, but Richard had a lot to do with that,” Southern Miss coach Corky Palmer said. “The way he was pitching, we couldn’t catch up.”

Southern Miss starter Brad Owen (4-2) didn’t make it out of the first after giving up the leadoff homer, surrendering six runs and allowing seven of the nine hitters he faced to reach base.

Hough led off the first for Maine with a drive to left field, McGraw had a two-run double and two more runs scored on Vallee’s single which chased Owen after two-thirds of an inning and made it 6-0.

“Give them a six-run lead early? You can’t do that,” Owen said. “They just sat on the fastball. They put the bat on the ball.”

Owen was rocked for the second time in three starts. He gave up six runs and didn’t retire a batter two weeks ago in an 11-7 loss to Houston.

Southern Miss ended its season with losses in four of five games, with the only win coming against South Florida in the Conference USA tournament.

Jason Lowery had a run-scoring groundout and Jody Blount added an RBI single for the Golden Eagles.

“We couldn’t afford not to hit, and we didn’t hit,” Palmer said.

AP-ES-06-04-05 1743EDT


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