Southern Miss (25-8, 11-1) completed its third straight series sweep on Sunday, beating Middle Tennessee State (14-18, 2-10) in Conference USA play.
“We stayed the course and found a way to win,” said coach Scott Berry. “The magic comes when you do things well and you earn it and you keep playing the game hard.”
The series went according to plan, despite constant comeback efforts from MTSU. Specifically, USM gave up 19 hits in the last contest but held on to win both the contest and the series.
“We’re just looking for one run at a time out there,” said junior outfielder Dylan Burdeaux. “Our offense, we never think we’re out of a game.”
In the first game, Southern Miss started off up 5-1 on the back of a strong pitching performance by Cord Cockrell and an efficient offense. Cockrell pitched six innings, giving up two runs on six hits in his sixth straight win of the season.
“The sign of a good pitcher is when you don’t have your best stuff and you’re still able to go out there and win,” Berry said. “That defines him right there tonight.”
MTSU would later climb back into the game with one run in the sixth inning and two more in the ninth. Berry saw the Golden Eagles lead chipping away and brought in Nick Sandlin to stop the proverbial bleeding. He earned his fourth save of the season to open up the series.
The Golden Eagles came out with hot bats to start the second game of the series. Led by Jake Sandlin’s four-hit performance at the plate, the Golden Eagles jumped out to a 6-1 lead by the bottom of the fourth. But, USM allowed MTSU to chip into the lead.
In the fifth inning, the Blue Raiders smacked off three runs on only three hits. The Golden Eagles had a cushion with six runs of their own, but the lead was dwindling down by the batter.
“We played the game, we didn’t play the opponent,” Berry said. “We just have to continue to play well and play together.”
USM outlasted the Blue Raider comeback, 9-5, but not before having to use four pitchers in the effort. Walker Powell was awarded the win after pitching 2.2 innings of work, but pitching woes in the second contest would continue to be the narrative heading into the final contest.
This game proved more of the same for USM as it held a 5-2 lead heading into the fourth inning. The Golden Eagles had already given up nine hits and already had three. It was only a matter of time before the deficit would catch up to them in the fifth inning.
With the score tied at 5 at the top of the fifth inning, MTSU rallied off five runs, including an inside-the-park grand slam to extend its lead to 9-5. Berry motivated his team to keep focusing on one swing at a time and not the scoreboard.
“Keep trying to grind it through and pump people up,” Berry said. “If you lose focus of what you’re doing, you’ll be out of the game real quick.”
With two outs and a four- run deficit in the bottom of the fifth inning, Chuckie Robinson singled to first base to start a three-run rally to cut the MTSU deficit to a manageable 9-8 with plenty of baseball to go.
MTSU ended up going up 11-9 by the ninth inning, but the dramatics would not stop there. Southern Miss headed into the ninth inning down 11-9 with the momentum on the Blue Raiders side. MTSU ended up walking the next four batters to bring home Michael Gilbert to walk in and score to put it at 11-10.
The next batter, Burdeaux, would single to left field to bring in Claudio Rubiera to tie the game at 11. To end the game, MTSU pitcher Caleb Smith would throw a wild pitch to end the contest with Storme Cooper advancing to home plate.
“I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss,” Berry said. “It was a mentally taxing game physically in our third game. We’re trying to not be complacent.”
Southern Miss will travel to Oxford to play in-state rival Ole Miss on Wednesday. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m.