Southern Miss advances to fourth consecutive C-USA championship game

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Freshman Gabe Shepard celebrates a strikeout. Photo by: Makayla Puckett

BILOXI— Freshman Gabe Shepard got things going for Southern Miss with a career day on the mound. His performance helped guide the Golden Eagles to a team no-hitter and a 6-0 win over Rice in the C-USA semifinal game.

It was the first ever no-hitter in C-USA tournament history with Shepard throwing a career-long 7.1 innings and with Cody Carroll and Hunter Stanley recording an inning each in the game.

“It just felt like a normal day,” Shepard said. “After the first batter, I knew I was on and I had my stuff.”

Shepard threw a career-high of 12 strikeouts with his previous being at nine against Troy. For Shepard, he said his pitching was experiencing a level that he had never felt before.

“It was something different,” Shepard said. “I have never experienced it. I was in a totally different zone, the fans behind me, the greatest fans, I just felt like I was on a different level than everybody else.”

“There’s nobody else around you. All you hear is yelling and you’re just focusing on the catcher. You’re not worried about the hitter and you’re just hitting your spots.”

Throughout the game, Shepard threw between 93 and 96 miles per hour which the Rice hitters could not catch up with.

“Well, it looked like it [he was throwing 93 to 96 mph],” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “Obviously if you look at analytics today and if you understand the spin rate and all that then I’m sure that he was very, very high on that spin rate. Rice’s hitters did not and could not catch up with him and that’s a live fastball that really jumps on you there and gets on your quicker than it appears.”

The reason Shepard did not finish the game was due to his 91 pitches thrown and having had to adjust from Tommy John surgery a year ago.

“The decision to bring him out of there was for the future,” Berry said. “Nothing more. Obviously, if his pitch count wasn’t up there and by normal standards for a starter wasn’t up there. But a young man who hadn’t gone more than five innings, one year removed from surgery sometimes like you have to be the parent for your own kid and make the best decisions for them whether they like it or not. You have to do the same thing as a coach.”

Shepard’s performance on the mound was easily backed by the Golden Eagle offense which put up three home runs on the day.

Bryant Bowen hit a solo home run in the second inning to give Southern Miss a 1-0 lead. A Rice error scored another run with Fred Franklin adding a run off an RBI single to extend the lead 3-0.

The Golden Eagles broke the game open with a three-run frame in the seventh inning. Matt Wallner hit a solo home run with Bowen following with his second home run of the game. Danny Lynch followed with an RBI single to take a 6-0 lead.

“[Our confidence level] is pretty high,” Bowen said. “It’s something we’ve been waiting on. At one point in the season, we won nine in a row. We’re getting hot at the right time. To get into the playoffs, if you can get hot at the right time and escalate and take it into a Regional or maybe a Super Regional and so forth but I think right now is the right time.”

The Golden Eagles will advance to the C-USA championship game for the fourth year in a row with the hope to defend their title from last season. Southern Miss will face the winner of the Florida Atlantic-UTSA semifinal game. The championship game will be televised on CBS Sports at 1 p.m.

C-USA baseball tournament photo gallery: Southern Miss vs. Rice