BATON ROUGE– After leaving the bases loaded and trailing 1-0 in the fifth inning to Arizona State, Southern Miss found itself needing a spark. Just a week and a half since the Rice game, Storme Cooper on cue lit the fuse in the Golden Eagle lineup with a solo home run.
“I think if you look at the body of work that was done in that game you can’t help but look at 12 runs scored in the fifth inning,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “Before that there in the third I think we missed on an opportunity with [runners] at first and second with nobody out on top of the order and we didn’t get any runs in. Thank Mr. Gabe Shepard who got back and did what he had to do to keep the momentum with us.”
Cooper’s home run kicked off a 12-run frame in the fifth inning that surged the Golden Eagles to a 15-3 win over Arizona St. and advances Southern Miss the winner’s bracket of the Baton Rouge Regional.
For Cooper, who finished 3-for-5 with three RBIs, hit his first home run in 96 at-bats which goes back to the 2017 season against Old Dominion.
“Storme Cooper, who hasn’t seen a lot of time this year of late, has really capitalized on the opportunities he has gotten,” Berry said. “Nothing was bigger today than the solo shot to lead off that fifth inning and start everything going.”
Following the home run in the fifth inning, Southern Miss exploded against ASU’s pitching with 10 of the 12 runs scoring on two outs.
Matt Wallner hit an RBI single and then scored on a wild pitch. Fred Franklin singled, Danny Lynch doubled, Cooper singled and Hunter Slater singled to score five more runs. Capping off the inning was Wallner who hit a three-run home run that would have left the park completely had it not hit a sign in the stadium.
“It helps when you get into a rhythm as an offense and that’s what we were doing that inning,” Wallner, who finished 2-for-4 with four RBIs, said. “It kind of made it easy to go and have a solid approach.”
Pior to the offensive explosion in the fifth, the first three innings appeared to be a pitching duel between Southern Miss’ starting pitcher Gabe Shepard and Arizona St. pitcher Alec Marsh. Shepard opened the game throwing the ball between 96 and 97 mph while Marsh threw consistently at 94 mph.
“I felt pretty strong,” Shepard said. “I had a lot of emotions running right there. I felt good. Later in the game, I felt tired.”
Marsh’s day ended in the middle of the fifth inning. In 4.2 innings of work, Marsh threw seven strikeouts, walked three batters, gave up six hits and allowed five runs.
Shepard gutted out a season-high of 108 pitches thrown, gave up six hits, walked three batters, allowed two runs and struck out four while recording the win. For Shepard, the game was a confidence booster getting the start against ASU who led the nation in home runs at 92.
“It gave [me] a ton of confidence,” Shepard said. “They believed in me and trusted in me to go out there and get the job done. I also feel like my teammates had confidence in me and that makes me feel good knowing they have my back [and] makes me feel good to know they trust me.”
The Sun Devils totaled three runs in the sixth, eighth and nine innings. However, the Golden Eagles closed out the game with a two-out, three run home run in the eighth inning by Lynch to extend the lead 15-2.
In total, Southern Miss put up 17 hits while holding ASU to eight. Slater finished 2-for-4 with two RBI and Lynch went 3-for-5 with four RBI.
Southern Miss will play the winner of the LSU-Stony Brook game on Saturday at 6 p.m.