Southern Miss softball returned to action this past weekend after a year-long hiatus, winning two of three games in its annual Black and Gold Invitational.
The Golden Eagles’ season was canceled after just 22 games due to the outbreak of COVID-19 last spring. Southern Miss went 14-8 in its shortened season.
“[It] feels great, I mean, we’ve waited all this time to put in all that work and then waited to play again and finally getting out there, it’s fun,” Head Coach Brian Levin said about returning to play. “I know the girls are excited about it, that’s for sure.”
Southern Miss started its first game against North Dakota with a strong first inning. Tata Davis hit a double, which advanced Karley Nichols home for the first run of the year. Shortly after, Maddie Vasquez hit an RBI double, bringing Davis and Terrica Williams back home to advance 3-0.
Despite a strong start hitting, the Golden Eagles relied on its defense throughout the game. Levin describes what impressed him on defense.
“I was really impressed with Vasquez at third base,” Levin said. “She played it really good defensively both games. We moved Tata over to second base and I think that just gives us a little bit more versatility as far as range. It kind of worked out for us and I like what I see from Maddie.”
The Fighting Hawks threatened to score in the third by loading the bases. However, pitcher Kaylan Ladner recorded her fifth strikeout to hold North Dakota scoreless.
Levin pulled Ladner and put recent transfer Morgan Leinstock out on the field in the final innings. Leinstock, in her first outing as a Golden Eagle, closed out the game, earning a save and giving Southern Miss a 3-0 victory.
The Golden Eagles played its second game against Murray State. Southern Miss ended its initial scoring drought in the second inning, as Davis made her way to home plate thanks to a fielding error.
Southern Miss continued to hold the Racers scoreless and added onto the scoreboard in the fourth inning with a run from outfielder Columbia Holeman.
The Racers got one run in the sixth inning after a throwing error. Leinstock replaced freshman pitcher Karsen Pierce shortly after and closed the game out again to earn a 2-1 victory.
“I’m really impressed with Morgan Leinstock coming in and closing the door in both games [and] throwing the ball hard and she really brings out a lot of energy,” Levin said. “It’s fun to watch the ballgame when she’s pitching, that’s for sure. She lifts everybody up around her and I enjoyed seeing that.”
Southern Miss’s first loss of the weekend came against the second matchup against North Dakota in a nine-inning battle.
Pierce made a strong formal debut, recording 16 strikeouts through a complete game. After allowing one run in the third inning, Pierce and Southern Miss held the Fighting Hawks scoreless throughout the seventh inning.
Southern Miss failed to score through six innings, but came back in the bottom of the seventh. After Brown hit a triple, she scored on a wild pitch, tying the game 1-1. The Golden Eagles had two runners on second and third base with an opportunity to walk-off, but ultimately struck out.
In the eighth, the Fighting Hawks scored one run on an RBI double, leaving Southern Miss in a must-score situation. This time, Williams came up big for the Golden Eagles as she hit an RBI single to score with outfielder Caroline Casey.
“She’s really just kind of carried over from what’s happened in practices and in scrimmages,” Levin said about Williams. “She’s just an unbelievably pleasant surprise. I think she’s just been injured so much over the past couple of years that just getting out there and being able to play is something she’s been looking forward to and she’s taken advantage of.”
The Fighting Hawks pushed ahead in the ninth, though, with a two-run RBI single. Southern Miss loaded its bases with a chance to win, but the Fighting Hawks’ pitcher Nikki Pica struck out Vasquez and Nichols to win the game 4-2.
Southern Miss will play next at Nicholls State before returning home for a doubleheader against Southern University on Sunday.