Roberts, Keys lead dominant performances from USM pitchers Saturday

HATTIESBURG – The Golden Eagles shuffled their weekend pitching rotation before they took on Xavier this weekend, and while Southern Miss took a loss on Friday night, Hayden Roberts and J.C. Keys pitched wonderfully on Saturday in Games 2 and 3 of the series.

USM swept the Saturday doubleheader 2-0 and 10-0 to take 2-of-3 from Xavier after falling 2-0 Friday night.

“Not too shabby today after giving up those two runs (Friday) night in the first two innings,” Southern Miss head coach Scott Berry said. “You go 25 scoreless innings, I thought that was a major contribution from all of those guys.

“From starters to relievers, even in Game 2 (of the doubleheader) when we got some guys an inning apiece. They all performed well, they were clean and I was very pleased coming off a disappointing loss last night.”

After starting the season as the Friday night starter, Roberts was bumped back to the Saturday, Game 2 role, and the moved turned out to be brilliant one. Roberts pitched 8.2 innings of two-hit ball, struck out eight and walked two in Southern Miss’ 2-0 win.

“I really try to get deeper in ballgames. It’s a weakness I’ve had for awhile,” Roberts said. “Sometimes I try to strike too many people out. I tried to force contact early, and I think I did a decent job today.”

Through the first three weekends before the Xavier series, Roberts was 0-1 with a 4.60 earned run average while allowing opposing teams to hit .323 against him. On Saturday, the Musketeers were 2-for-30 (.067) against Roberts.

He pitched 1-2-3 innings in the first, third, fifth, sixth and eighth innings, and allowed the two hits in the second and ninth innings.

In the second inning, he hit a Musketeer batter with one out, then gave up a single to during the next at-bat. A strikeout and a fielder’s choice got him out of the early jam. In the seventh inning, he walked the leadoff batter, but a couple of fielder’s choices got him two outs with a runner at second, then a groundout ended the frame.

He followed that inning up with an easy 1-2-3 frame in the eighth before trotting out to try and complete the game in the ninth.

A walk and a single were sandwiched around two strikeouts in the last frame, and that’s when Southern Miss made the move to Nick Sandlin to get the last out. He needed just four pitches to finish off Xavier.

“That last out is going to eat at me for a little while,” Roberts said with smile. “Really wish I would have got that one.”

Keys started his first game of his career in Game 2 of the doubleheader, and he worked six innings, gave up three hits, no runs, struck out five and walked two in game. Entering the day, he only pitched five innings all season, and his career long was three innings against Alabama earlier this season.

“We’ve been kind of grooming him,” Berry said. “Obviously, that’s what we signed him for out of high school as a starter. All of the innings he’s logged in as relief appearances, but all of the relief appearances this year he’s been pretty good.”

Keys had clean frames in the second and sixth innings, and also got a double play in the fourth to face the minimum then, too. He ran into some trouble with two on in the first and bases loaded in the third, but a groundout to second ended the first and a dribbler in front of the plate allowed catcher Bryant Bowen to step on the plate for the final out in the third.

“It’s all nerves being the first one,” Keys said. “I finally settled in and locked down.”