Southern Miss completed a three-game series sweep against the No.12 Mississippi State Bulldogs at Pete Taylor Park on the Feb.16-18 opening weekend.
Associate head coach Chad Calliet covered the first two games as head coach Scott Berry was serving a two- game suspension he received in the final game of last season.
Nick Sandlin took the mound on opening day for his first career start with the Golden Eagles. In the presence of over 25 professional scouts, Sandlin pitched seven scoreless innings while only giving up four hits.
Mississippi State transfer and Southern Miss third baseman Luke Reynolds made his debut as a Golden Eagle. The third baseman made the Bulldogs pay on opening day as he notched two hits, drew a walk, recorded two RBIs and scored three runs in his four appearances at the plate. Second baseman Storme Cooper batted in three runs while designated hitter Matthew Guidry and first baseman Hunter Slater added two runs each.
Guidry hit the first home run of the season in the bottom of the fifth inning to give Southern Miss a 2-0 lead. Between the fifth and seventh innings, the Golden Eagles added another four runs. Freshman pitcher Jacob Weirich made his Southern Miss debut in relief of Sandlin. Wright and with relief from Keller Bradford kept the Bulldogs scoreless and completed the shutout, 11-0.
In game two, the Southern Miss offense kept its rhythm and rolled out to a 5-0 start. Stevie Powers took the mound for Southern Miss and struggled early against the Bulldogs. Powers cleared a jam in the first, left a runner stranded in the second but gave up a two-run home run in the third inning that cut into the Golden Eagle lead, 5-2.
Jarod Wright came in to relieve Powers in the fifth inning with two runs and seven hits already on the board. Pinch hitter Gabe Montenegro hit an RBI-triple for the first hit of his career and was brought home by Irby that extended the Southern Miss lead, 7-2. Mississippi State tacked on two runs later on, but ultimately Southern Miss clinched the series with a 7-4 win.
To complete the sweep, the Golden Eagles got off to another quick start in game three. Montenegro’s RBI- single in the second along with a walk drawn by Irby gave Southern Miss a 2-0 lead. However, J.C. Keys struggled early and allowed the Bulldogs to erase that lead. In the third inning, Keys loaded the bases for the Bulldogs with three straight, two- out walks and was pulled for right- handed pitcher Mason Strickland.
Strickland walked a batter, then hit the next batter, tying the game. Strickland avoided further damage and made it out the inning with the game still tied, 2-2.
Later in the fifth, Reynolds made a mark on his former team again with a two-run RBI double. The third baseman came home himself in the same play on a throwing error at second base, giving Southern Miss a 5-2 lead.
Reynolds went 6-for-10 in the series with a home run and five RBIs against Mississippi State. Batting in the third spot in the lineup, Reynolds may become a valuable asset for the Golden Eagles. Reynolds’ emotion showed all weekend and his preparation for this series carried through with a purpose from behind the plate.
“I enjoyed every single minute of that,” Reynolds said. “We all came together this weekend and we had one goal. That was to punch them right in the mouth, keep our foot on their throat, have that mentality and just play for one another. We did that to a tee.”
Berry received his 300th career win in his return from his suspension, but still has much more to look forward to with the rest of the season ahead of him.
“What I was so proud of our guys for was that we did not focus on this series as ‘it’s Mississippi State,’” Berry said. “We approached it as an opportunity to play an opponent and win the game of baseball. We can’t get caught up in roller coaster of emotion on who you play. We’ve got 55 games of regular season and every game is important. It doesn’t matter who you are. I thought our guys really stuck to that approach the whole weekend.”
Southern Miss Baseball will return to action on Tuesday, Feb. 20 to face South Alabama at Stanky Field in Mobile, Al. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m.