Southern Miss claims eighth straight conference series

By CAMAL PETRO,

HATTIESBURG – The Southern Miss Golden Eagles continue to answer the bell after they lose a game. Southern Miss entered Sunday’s rubber match with Western Kentucky with an 8-0 mark after a loss, and after a 14-1, run-rule thrashing of the visiting Hilltoppers, USM is now 9-0 following a defeat.

“We talked last night about the body of work we’ve put together in the last eight games, and it was just good enough for a 4-4 record.” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “I felt like the things that we identified that we haven’t done well or we need to correct and do well, obviously we did them today.”

Overall, Southern Miss moved to 22-9 and 8-3 in conference play. It’s now won all four of its conference series through the first four weeks.

Starting pitching was an issue in the first two games of the series, whether it was due to injury or WKU’s offense. Southern Miss needed a good start out of sophomore Walker Powell to help the overused bullpen.

“For Walker to come out in a situation, that I felt like was really a must win for us as a club, you couldn’t ask for anything better,” Berry said.

He delivered a seven-inning complete game performance, thanks to the 10-run rule after seven innings in Sunday conference games. He scattered three hits while allowing just one earned run, and Powell also struck out four and walked one.

“It was really important,” Powell said about have a good start in Game 3. “I just wanted to come out and go as long as I can so we can save arms for Tuesday and so on.

“My cutter was working. I was able to keep it down in the zone. When I do that, it has the action, the late cut, on it where I’ll get a lot of ground balls and fly balls. A lot of quick contact. That’s what I strive to do.”

Powell had plenty of run production, too. The Golden Eagles scored its 14 runs on 15 hits in six offensive innings.

On Sunday, Southern Miss’ bats woke up early. After a two-spot in the first, it added five more runs in the third to jump up 7-0 quickly. Then three straight innings of at least two runs in each frame put the game out of reach, if it wasn’t already.

“I know people out there think we should win 12-1 every game, but it doesn’t work like that in college baseball,” Berry said. “There are days that are better than others, obviously.”

Freshman Gabe Montenegro and redshirt sophomore Matthew Guidry led off the game by getting on base. Montenegro was gifted first base by the WKU shortstop, who dropped a routine fly ball, and Guidry doubled to left center. Junior Luke Reynolds picked up an RBI on a groundout then sophomore Matt Wallner added a sacrifice fly to center.

Wallner’s two-run blasts highlighted the third inning, then senior LeeMarcus Boyd picked up a two-RBI single when the shortstop, again, dropped a fly ball. WKU’s Kevin Lambert lost the ball in the sun, so Boyd was credited for the single and two RBI.

A Montenegro single later in the inning pushed the USM lead to 7-0. Montenegro added his first career home run in the sixth inning, and a batter later, Guidry added his third homer to give Southern Miss a 14-1 advantage.

“It felt good,” Montenegro said of hitting his first home run in a Golden Eagles’ uniform. “I wasn’t really expecting it, but it felt good when it went outside the wall.”

Montenegro – the leadoff hitter – and two-hole hitter Guidry were a combined 4-for-8 with four RBI. Add in nine-hole hitter Boyd, and the three went 8-for-12 with seven RBI to help flip the order to USM’s power hitters. The three-four-five batters, Reynolds, Wallner and Hunter Slater, when 4-for-9.

“Our offense is really identified by the middle of the order,” Berry said. “Everybody knows who those guys are, and we have to be able to have that protection in front of them and behind them. They’re not going to hit every day. Good offenses understand that you have to be sound from top to bottom. For those guys to have that day, that will hopefully prove beneficial for us down the road for getting them going.”

Southern Miss is back in action Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. It’ll take on in-state rival Ole Miss at 6:30 p.m., two weeks after the Rebels pulled a come-from-behind victory against the Golden Eagles in Oxford.