Southern Miss trailed in all three games against Purdue on opening weekend and had to stage comebacks in each game. The biggest key in all three wins was Southern Miss’ bullpen, which was the unsung hero for the series sweep.
“We talk a lot about not riding a rollercoaster of emotion,” Southern Miss head coach Scott Berry said. “When you get down you just can’t let yourself get down. We talk about momentum and being able to capitalize and getting the momentum back and not giving it up. More importantly, the message is to always play even keel never high and never too low. Just understand how to play the game.”
Aside from Matthew Guidry’s walk-off hit, the biggest key in Friday night’s win was the Golden Eagle bullpen. Walker Powell had what looked to be a rust buster outing as he gave up five hits and two runs, but it was a pair of fielding errors that gave Purdue a 6-4 lead. However, relievers Ryan Och and Mason Strickland kept Purdue in check and allowed only five hits combined in the 8-7 extra-inning win.
Stevie Powers’ Saturday performance on the mound was the most solid among the weekend starters. Powers came out and struck out six batters, gave up one earned run and retired the last 11 batters he faced in the team’s 4-2 game two win.
However, Cody Carroll’s performance proved to be the difference as he kept Purdue off the board in his relief performance. Carroll had tough moments in his first two seasons at Southern Miss, but his arm looked to take him to the next level as he consistently threw in the lower 90s over the weekend.
On Sunday, Jarod Wright got the start but had a tough outing as he gave up five runs on four hits in just one inning of work, which gave Purdue a 4-0 lead on Sunday. However, Alex Nelms stopped Purdue’s momentum as he stepped into relief for the next three innings and allowed just one hit. Relievers Josh Lewis, Hunter Stanley, Och and J.C. Keys gave up only two runs on four hits in the 16-7 win on Sunday.
In all three games, the bullpen was key in keeping Southern Miss within striking distance by the end of each game, as 20 of Southern Miss’ 27 total runs came after the sixth inning.
“We just don’t give up,” Southern Miss outfielder/pitcher Matt Wallner, who had five RBIs on Sunday, said. “We know we’re not always going to get the lead to start, you get the runs in the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth. We’re just relentless for sure.”
The bats also guided Southern Miss to its win on Sunday, but Hunter Slater’s bat easily made the biggest impact. Slater finished the weekend eight for 13 and four RBIs, which comes out to a .613 batting average. Slater also took advantage of being moved to the three spot of the lineup and hitting ahead of Wallner.
“Of course, they don’t want to pitch to Wallner and so they want whoever is in front of him to earn their way on,” Berry said. “They don’t want to pitch around [Slater] to get to Wallner, so he’s responding well. He’s responded well. He’s getting pitches to hit and he’s not missing them. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do.”
A new addition to the lineup is Brant Blaylock. Last season, Gabe Montenegro was the breakout star in the opening series; this season Blaylock potentially looks to be the new breakout first-year player. In his first at-bat, Blaylock hit a home run and finished the weekend three for nine with a pair of RBIs. Blaylock filled in for the injured Wallner in right field. Once Wallner returns from his forearm injury, Blaylock’s role will be an intriguing factor for the lineup.
Additionally, the Golden Eagles were able to take advantage of a rebuilding Purdue team. The pitching overall was solid, and the bats are as solid as they were a season ago.
“I thought we played hard,” Berry said. “I thought we competed. We didn’t play on emotion at all. I thought that we understood in a mature way how you come out and play baseball games. Whether you’re up or whether you are down. We learned that once again it’s not over until it’s over, and that’s the way we got to continue to do, but I was very proud by the way we competed.”
Southern Miss will take on Troy (2-2) at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Miss., on Wednesday. Following that, the team will travel to Starkville, Miss., to face No. 14 Mississippi State (3-0 overall) from Feb. 22 to Feb. 24.
“They are definitely coming for us,” Wallner said. “We just have to approach them as another team and not get scared of anyone. Obviously, we’ve shown that we can beat anybody and we’re just going to go after them next weekend.”