STARKVILLE, MS (WDAM) _ The University of Southern Mississippi scored exactly the same number of runs Saturday afternoon _ one _ as it had in topping Mississippi State University in Friday’s opener of the three-game baseball series at Dudy Noble Field.
The result Saturday proved much different and underscored how fortunate the Golden Eagles were to walk away with an extra-inning victory Friday and how stout a Walker Powell-Ryan Och pitching effort was needed to deliver it.
Saturday, the Bulldogs did not waste a second consecutive dominating start, handing freshman right-hander J.T. Ginn a 4-0 lead in the second inning before cruising to an 8-1 victory before an announced 9,376.
“We talk about the three phases _ offense, pitching, defense _ and we got beat on all three of those (Saturday),” USM coach Scott Berry said.
The No. 9 Bulldogs (5-1), who snapped a four-game losing streak against the Golden Eagles, banged out 13 hits, nearly half coming in the early, four-run inning that doomed USM starter Stevie Powers and sent No. 21 USM (4-1) to its first loss of the season.
“He didn’t have his best stuff (Saturday), and I think he’d be the first to tell you that,” Berry said. “His secondary stuff wasn’t as sharp to compliment that fastball, and they put some good swings on 'em.”
Powers (1-1) gave up those four runs on six hits, though USM’s defense did him few favors.
The Bulldogs’ first run came honest enough after third baseman Justin Foscue led off the second inning with his second home run of the season.
After that. MSU continued to put the ball in play and reaped the benefits by doing so.
Catcher Dustin Skelton singled sharply to right field before designated hitter Marshall Gilbert dropped a single in front of Hunter LeBlanc in right.
Powers struck out left fielder Rowdey Jordan for the first out, but USM shortstop Storme Cooper and second baseman Matthew Guidry could not turn what would have been an inning-ending double play on a slow chopper to short.
The fielder’s choice left runners at first and third bases, and leadoff hitter Jake Mangum’s smash to third base got through Danny Lynch to give State a 2-0 lead. Shortstop Jordan Westburg followed with a run-scoring single through the hole before a single by first baseman Tanner Allen through the right side gave the Bulldogs a 4-0 lead.
That was more than enough for Ginn (2-0), the first-round draft pick from Brandon who turned the pros to play for the Bulldogs.
Ginn carved up the Golden Eagles for a personal-high seven shutout innings, allowing just two singles, walking one and hitting a batter. He finished with a career-high nine strikeouts.
“There’s a reason why he was (a first-round pick),” Berry said. “To step up and do what he did, as a true freshman, that’s pretty impressive there.”
Berry pointed out that in the past two days USM has managed just seven hits and scored just two runs. Of the 54 possible outs available to be made in those two games, the Golden Eagles covered 27 of them by strikeout.
“We’ve got to do a better job of putting the ball in play and putting pressure on their defense,” Berry said. “Right now, too many times, it’s just been the pitcher and the catcher that have gotten us out, and we have to a better job with that and make those adjustments.”
The meat of USM’s lineup, second through fifth, has been made mincemeat. Guidry, Hunter Slater, Matt Wallner and Cole Donaldson have combined to go 2-for-28 with a cumulative 12 strikeouts against State.
Wallner and Guidry do not have a hit, and have gone 0-for-14 with seven strikeouts between them.
“We have to get more rhythm in the offense and get on base any way we can,” said USM left fielder/leadoff man Gabe Montenegro, who after an 0-for-Friday got two of the Golden Eagles’ four hits Saturday.
“We have to avoid the strikeouts, get the ball in play and get something started.”
That has been easier said than done the last two days against State’s pitching staff, and Berry said he isn’t expecting it getting any easier in Sunday’s rubber match.
“Their velo (velocity) has beat us,” Berry said. “Mid-90’s, and it’s kind of showed up on us. We better get our timing down on that … (because) they’ve got a stack full of arms, and I don’t think there’s going to be any ‘thumbers’ (non-power pitchers) coming after us.”
Not if recent history is to inform the near future. After Ginn got done with USM Saturday, State sent out relievers Brandon Smith and Colby White for the final two innings.
Smith was touched for USM’s lone run of the game, when Montenegro tripled with one out and scored when Foscue played a hard smash by pinch-hitter Will McGillis into an infield single. But Smith got Slater to hit into a double play to mitigate any further damage.
White, who prepped at West Marion High School before heading to Pearl River Community College, touched 97 on the radar gun while setting the Golden Eagles down in order in the ninth inning.
By those last two innings, the Bulldogs had doubled their early lead, thanks in main part to Skelton, who came into the game with one career home run and came out the other side with three.
After Foscue singled to lead off the fifth inning against USM reliever Josh Lewis, Skelton went 402-feet to dead center to put the Bulldogs ahead 6-0. His solo shot to left field on USM reliever Gabe Shepard’s first career pitch as a Golden Eagle made it 7-0.
Mangum scored the final run in the eighth inning. After he walked, a two-base throwing error on a pickoff attempt sent him to third base, where he scored on a grounder to the right side.
The teams are set to meet Sunday at 1 p.m. in the best-of-three series finale.