In the first inning, freshman Gabe Shepard found himself in an early jam with a single and an error putting two runners on base for Troy to start the game.
However, Shepard was able to pitch out of the inning and put together his strongest outing of the season in Southern Miss’ (33-17) 12-2 Tuesday win over Troy (27-26).
“Gabe ran into some trouble in the first inning but boy he really had a live arm tonight,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “I heard 93-95 mph. He got that breaking ball really working from the second to the fifth inning on. What I think was really impressive was for him to overcome the first inning couple of walks and the error with runners at second and third with less than two outs. Here we go, we certainly don’t want to fall behind early like we’ve been doing but he pitched out of it and pitched another great four innings.”
A key member in helping Shepard come out unscathed in that first inning was Cole Donaldson who threw a runner out in the inning which took the pressure off Shepard. Donaldson’s contribution did not stop there as he led the team in hitting, going 3-for-4 and driving in four RBI on the night.
“He was just filling the zone up,” Donaldson said on Shepard. “He’s got the stuff to where he can just pound it in there. He’s got the velocity and he matched it with his slider. He had his stuff tonight.”
Shepard went five full innings in his start where he threw nine strikeouts, two walks both of which were in the first inning and gave up just three hits.
“I haven’t had a lot of innings just because I’m a freshman coming off surgery and all,” Shepard said. “I filled up the zone, stuck to my fastball, had them guessing at the plate, really good mix up, good defense behind just felt really good on the mound.”
Shepard came off Tommy John surgery which he says has made a difference in his appearances on the mound and the hardest adjustment for him has been finding a rhythm. The five innings was the longest Shepard had gone all season. Entering the game, Shepard had pitched just 12.2 innings pitched, with three of his 13 appearances being starts.
“Getting the rhythm back is the main thing,” Shepard said. “You haven’t been on the mound for a year and you don’t know what to do anymore so you have to find that rhythm again to get into the groove with things. I had trouble with that through the whole year.”
Developing Shepard into a solidified starter would be a boost for the Golden Eagles who have had five different Sunday starters with Shepard being one.
“Heading into the tournament this a good sign that what [Shepard] was able to throw,” Berry said. “It’s been a revolving door in that three spot but in the conference tournament, it’s been more than three spots if you are going to win it. What he did today gave me a lot of confidence in him moving forward.”
Southern Miss had a pair of runs in the third and fourth inning and added another in the fourth to take a 5-0 lead. The Golden Eagles broke the game open with a four-run inning in the sixth inning with back-to-back two RBI singles from Bryant Bowen and Matt Wallner and an RBI double from Cole Donaldson.
Southern Miss totaled 16 hits by the end of the night with Troy putting up six errors.
The Golden Eagles will play UAB with the first game of the series to be played on Thursday. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.