STARKVILLE— Southern Miss experienced a slew of issues in its weekend series against Mississippi State in Starkville. The presence at the plate was probably its weakest I’ve seen from the team over the last three years I’ve covered them, and fielding was just as big of an issue. Still, Southern Miss proved that it can hang with top-25 caliber teams. There were a lot of various factors, both positive and negative, that were overlooked during the weekend, the biggest being injuries.
Injuries proved to be a difference maker for the Golden Eagles with Brant Blaylock sidelined, Matt Wallner playing in a limited capacity and Mason Strickland injuring himself during his start on the mound on Sunday. From the way it looks, Wallner was likely going to be the Sunday starter on the mound and even if he was not, his forearm injury kept his glove out of the field and his bat at bay. Wallner’s experience in the field was missed, and freshman Hunter LeBlanc did make some rookie mistakes in the field, something that he admitted to.
Blaylock missed out on his homecoming series against his former team. Blaylock’s bat was needed in the lineup, as the bottom part of the order struggled throughout the series. In addition to that, his glove could have also been used in the outfield and his arm on the mound as a starter for Sunday. Lastly, Mason Strickland looked to be shaken up from his ankle injury on Sunday which likely led to him pitching in third inning jam.
Another lingering issue aside from the team’s 37 strikeouts was the seven errors on the weekend. Better defensive play on Sunday may have prevented Mississippi State’s first run from scoring. Over the first two weekends of the season, Southern Miss has totaled 13 errors. For a team that is now hitting .254, they cannot afford to do that.
On a positive note, the bullpen looks to be the strongest aspect of the team. The biggest name of the bullpen thus far is Ryan Och. Even though Och gave up the eventual game-winning hit, he still put Southern Miss in a position to win on Sunday and was also the difference in Friday’s win. Och not only looks to be the go-to bullpen guy moving forward but possibly the closer that Southern Miss searched for last year. In his two appearances, Och threw three innings, gave up six hits, allowed one unearned run and threw three strikeouts. Even without Och, the bullpen only gave up seven runs the entire weekend.
Southern Miss still took a win from a top-25 team on the road, which should not damage the team’s RPI in the long run. The team also had another chance to beat Mississippi State on Sunday.
As Southern Miss head coach Scott Berry explained, the series was a way to prepare for the NCAA regional environment.
“We have to learn in every aspect of this experience this weekend,” Berry said. “If we are going to play at the end of the year, it’s going to be in an atmosphere just like this, and this is what we want. Whether it’s at Pete Taylor Park, Starkville, Fayetteville, Oxford, wherever you get the call, it’s going to be in an electric atmosphere like it was this weekend. You have to be able to take this experience and learn how to handle it and move forward. As much as it hurts right now and missing on this opportunity in this game, we have to learn from it. That’s the only thing you can do from failure is learn from it and hopefully, we’ll do that.”