adSouthern Miss (33-15, 20-7) came into the series finale on Sunday against Louisiana Tech (34-16, 16-11) looking for the series-clinching victory after dropping the first game on Friday night.
The Golden Eagles shut out La. Tech for the first time since April 19, 2014 with a 2-0 series-clinching win. The Golden Eagles made strides in commanding their own destiny heading into a hopeful NCAA Regional berth.
USM split the first two contests of the series losing 7-5 on Friday and bouncing back to win 6-3 on Saturday.
The Golden Eagles needed the win on Sunday to extend their lead on the rest of the Conference USA field. With the win, USM recorded its 20th C-USA win of the season, which is the most since 2005 — with three more games to go in league play.
“I thought it was a great team win against a very good club in Louisiana Tech,” said coach Scott Berry. “We were able to scratch for those two runs.”
The final result against La. Tech had several ramifications for not just this lone series but in the rankings as well. Rice played Florida Atlantic during the same time period as USM and the winners between each series would dictate who would be in No. 1 position heading into the final weekend of conference play.
“It’s been a grind here at the end,” Berry said. “It all goes back to the game-by-game approach. Not trying to get ahead of where we are, just staying in the present.”
The Golden Eagles got on the scoreboard first with a Daniel Keating single up the middle to bring in Hunter Slater for the score to put Southern Miss up 1-0 early in the second inning.
That score would be a precursor to Southern Miss again putting up a score in the third inning after Chase Scott flied out to center field bringing in Nick Dawson to score from third. The score was set at 2-0 in that inning and for the rest of the game.
The pitching was dominant from both sides in the contest. Freshman Walker Powell got the start for Southern Miss pitching 5.1 innings, giving up only three hits and striking out four batters.
“Whoever we throw in there we have confidence in,” Powell said. “Throw up zeroes [on the scoreboard] and our offense has a chance to win every game.”
On the other side for Louisiana Tech, Casey Sutton pitched 6.1 innings of work, but gave up two runs on seven hits during his time on the mound.
Nick Sandlin was another freshman to get action on the mound. Sandlin recorded his 10th save of the season in 2.2 innings of work, only giving up one hit. On the backs of the freshman pitchers, the Bulldogs were held scoreless in the last 16 consecutive innings of the series.
In all, Southern Miss employed four pitchers to close out the Bulldogs.
“It starts with Walker Powell and it’s good to see him in a starting role,” Sandlin said. “Me and Stevie [Powers] just took it from there.”
Southern Miss will head into their last weekend of the regular season against Florida International in sole possession of first-place in the C-USA standings with a half-game lead on Rice.
Mathematically, it is possible for the top four teams in the standings, Southern Miss, Rice, FAU and Marshall, to win the conference. Although it is not essential for Southern Miss to win the regular season title because it does no lead to an automatic bid for the Regional, USM would like to keep its best footing heading into the conference tournament starting on May 25.
“If you can avoid those [teams] in the tournament until the championship game, that obviously puts us in a better position than other teams,” Lynch said. “We definitely have a goal to win conference outright.”
Southern Miss holds the tiebreaker over Marshall and Rice, but will lose their lead if tied with FAU due to the Owls holding the tiebreaker.
“We control our own destiny and that’s something that every team wants,” Lynch said. “If we go out and play our game, at the end of the day we’re going to come out with the outcome that we want.”
Southern Miss will host the University of Louisiana at Monroe at home on Tuesday. First pitch is set for 5 p.m.