BATON ROUGE– Despite staging a 13-12 comeback win over Arizona State and taking a 4-3 lead over LSU, Southern Miss’ hope for a Super Regional fell short in a 6-4 loss to the Tigers in the Baton Rouge Regional final on Sunday night bringing the Golden Eagles’ season to an end.
Junior starting pitcher Josh Lewis put together a rather unexpected performance for the Golden Eagles who entered the game vastly thin on arms in the pitching staff.
“I’ve been preparing for this since the start of last year [and] I’ve been preparing for this all year,” Lewis said. “Especially in this environment. It’s not much you have to get ready for. It psyches you up enough. I’m glad to go out there and compete. I’m glad I came out there and gave us a chance to win”.
The left-handed pitcher entered the game with his only start being against Southern in a mid-week matchup back on March 6.
Lewis went on to have six complete innings against the Tigers.
Lewis had a shaky start with LSU’s Josh Smith hitting a home run off Lewis’ first pitch. In the second inning, Smith again found success with a two-run triple giving LSU a 3-0 lead.
From there Lewis threw four consecutive shutout innings against the Tigers.
The Golden Eagles lineup rallied with a solo home run in the fourth inning from Gabe Montenegro. Southern Miss then followed with a three-run frame in the fifth inning with Danny Lynch tying the game with an RBI single and Matthew Guidry hitting an RBI single to take a 4-3 lead over the Tigers.
Southern Miss had a chance to extend its lead, but Matt Wallner struck out with the bases loaded.
“Matt has had so many big moments down the stretch here,” Berry said. “He fouled off some pitches on breaking balls. Obviously, we had a chance to do a little more damage there and extend the lead and open it. Give back credit. He went to the breaking ball. He kind of pitched backwards there [at] 3-2 and got Wallner there who’s been a really disciplined hitter here of late. For [LSU’s pitcher] to get him to chase that down was a pretty good pitch for sure.”
LSU later capitalized as Lewis gave up a single and double to start the seventh inning having entered the inning with a season-high of 74 pitches thrown.
In Lewis’ final line, he allowed five runs off eight hits, walked four batters and struck out one.
“Tremendous effort,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “He had one start coming into tonight. We needed him to show up big. We exhausted pretty much everything in that first game of the guys we had been really been going to over the last part of the season. We talked about guys who have to step up for us to win this thing and get into this thing. A star is born every day.”
Pitcher Jarod Wright entered in relief and gave up back-to-back hits. In four pitches, Wright gave up a two-run RBI single and an RBI double. Two of those runs were charged to Lewis.
Adam Jackson then took over and kept LSU off the board for the rest of the night, but the damage was done as Southern Miss’ lineup could not respond.
Four the fourth season in a row Southern Miss earned a bid to the NCAA tournament and also had a 40+ win season along with securing the Conference USA tournament championship.
Wallner broke the all-time career record in home runs at 58 and tied the single-season home run record at 23.
Wallner and pitcher Walker Powell were named to the C-USA All-Conference First Team. Hunter Slater, Montenegro and Bryant Bowen were named to C-USA’s All-Conference Second Team and Danny Lynch was named to the All-Conference Freshman Team.
“It’s kind of funny because you are looking that was really kind of a rollercoaster,” Berry said. “We had so many peaks and so many valleys and we were still able to obtain 40 wins, a conference tournament championship for three out of the last four years. So there was a lot of great things there.”
Southern Miss graduates nine seniors with Matt Wallner likely leaving early because of the MLB draft. Another possible loss to the MLB draft could be Walker Powell. The redshirt junior led Conference USA with a 2.72 ERA.
On the flipside, if Powell returns he could be part of a strong weekend rotation. Part of that rotation could be the most interesting returning player for Southern Miss which would be pitcher Gabe Shepard. Shepard who could find himself earning some major national attention at the end of next season.
The final piece of that weekend rotation could be Ryan Och who missed the second half of the season due to a pinched nerve. Despite being a late reliever, Ostrander has an extensive history of turning relievers into successful starting pitchers and add into the fact that Berry has a left-handed pitcher in his weekend rotations. Lewis also makes a case for a left-handed starter after his game against LSU. Prior to Southern Miss, Lewis was regular starter Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Overall, Southern Miss will add 13 new players to the program next season with eleven of those players being signees out of high school. With only three seniors returning to the lineup, Southern Miss will feature will be a young team next year.
“Hopefully they have this taste in their mouth to get to the postseason,” Berry said. “We have been to a lot of regionals. We need to take that step into a super and hopefully, those guys coming back understand how close we are and the work that we’ve got to be able to do and be great leaders for those that are coming into our program. Whether its traditional kids out of high school or [junior college] kids. If they are coming to our program, they have to understand there are expectations. I think we have the people in place that can instill that into those guys.”