Southern Miss (12-6, 3-0 in C-USA) out-dueled the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks at Pete Taylor Park to extend its current winning streak to four games. The two teams battled back and forth for a full nine innings, with the Golden Eagles striking the final blow and earning a 5-4 victory on Tuesday night.
The Warhawks captured the lead in the top of the first with a solo home run that hit off of Southern Miss starting pitcher Gabe Shepard. The freshman right-hander regained his composure and struck out five in the following two innings before handing the ball to junior reliever Josh Lewis.
Southern Miss tied the score in the bottom of the third inning with a double to right field by Matt Wallner that allowed Hunter Slater to reach home plate. Wallner’s offensive turnaround continued on Tuesday, going 1-for-2 at the plate with one RBI and three walks. The highly touted right fielder has brought his average up from .226 to .284 within the span of one week.
The Golden Eagles scored two unearned runs in the fifth and sixth innings to claim a 3-1 lead, one run being walked in and the other coming on a sacrifice fly hit by Cole Donaldson.
Head coach Scott Berry says that while he’s pleased his team’s bats are warming up, they still have to find a way to get hits with runners on base.
“I think we’re certainly doing better at the plate,” Berry said. “Still left 13 on tonight, but you know, you’ve got to get them on to score. I think we’re moving closer to that.”
The Warhawks made their final attempt at a comeback with an offensive surge in the top of the eighth, scoring three runs to earn a 4-3 advantage.
Senior closer J.C. Keys inherited the mound from Alex Nelms with two runners on and nobody out. Those two runners for Louisiana-Monroe scored on a double before Keys was able to settle in and take control of the game.
On the ropes in the bottom of the eighth, the heart of Southern Miss’ batting lineup accounted for two runs to retake the lead. Blaylock doubled down the left field line to bring home Matthew Guidry, then Hunter Slater scored the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly to center field by Cole Donaldson.
Though it was his only hit of the night, Blaylock’s eighth-inning double was one of the most important of the night and was a perfect example of his confident style of play.
“I’m a big confidence guy,” Blaylock said. “When I play with confidence, I’m a lot better. Better swings, better approach, better results.”
Keys then achieved what Berry and the staff hoped for when they switched him from the starting rotation to a closing role. The senior threw four strikeouts over two innings pitched to cement a 5-4 home win for the Golden Eagles.
Keys accredits part of that success to a shared streak of confidence and momentum throughout the bullpen.
“It’s just next man up,” Keys said. “When one of us gets in trouble, it’s the next guy’s job to come in and pick his brother up.”
The Golden Eagles will return to conference action this weekend with a three-game home series against the Old Dominion Monarchs (14-5, 1-2 in C-USA).