HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Solid starting pitching and an even better closing effort helped the University of Southern Mississippi to a doubleheader sweep of the College of the Holy Cross with a 5-3 victory over the Crusaders in the night cap.
Left-hander Stevie Powers allowed a run in five innings and right-hander J.C. Keys worked three scoreless innings at the end as USM (7-5) clinched the three-game series with the visitors from Worchester, Mass.
The Golden Eagles won the opener 4-1 behind a strong seven innings from starting pitcher Walker Powell.
“Starting pitching, both were very effective,” said USM coach Scott Berry, who picked up the 350th victory of his career with the Golden Eagles. “Walker covered seven (innings), Stevie five, and think one walk between them. I think it all started there.”
Second baseman Matthew Guidry hit his first home run of the season in the first inning and the Golden Eagles cobbled together a four-run fifth inning to grab a 5-0 lead after three innings.
Holy Cross (1-13) closed, getting one back in the top of the fourth inning on a solo home run off Powers by second baseman Peter Dudunakis and then got within two runs in the sixth off USM reliever Aaron Ginn.
But right-hander J.C. Keys allowed just two walks over the final three innings, tying a career best with seven strikeouts to pick up his first save of the season.
“Great job by J.C. there,” Berry said.
Powers (2-2) allowed a run on four hits over five innings, striking five and walking none.
Holy Cross starter Liam Dvorak (1-2) allowed five runs on seven hits over five innings, walking two while striking out seven.
But while USM was glad to pocket the pair of wins Friday, nobody has been pleased with the team’s offensive production since the season-opening series against Purdue University.
USM scored in only five of a 16 innings against a Holy Cross team that had come into the series with a pitching staff carrying a 9.32 ERA. Teams were hitting .349 against Crusader pitching, averaging 9.25 runs per game.
The Golden Eagles had 17 hits in the two games, scoring a combined nine runs.
“We’re not ready to hit the panic button yet, but there’s a lot of room left to grow on,” Guidry said. “You break down offenses different ways, by approaches, by mindset, just mechanics and I think it’s more of a mindset with us.
“We’ve been a little complacent with ourselves. After the game, (assistant) Coach (B.A.) Vollmuth had a pretty serious talk with us, looking us in the face and making sure we realize we have a lot more we can do. Yeah, we may have won three in a row, but we still have a lot to learn and a lot to build on.”
Guidry’s homer to right-center put USM up 1-0 in the first inning, and the Golden Eagles got all the runs they’d need in the third inning.
Left fielder Gabe Montenegro singled off Dvorak with one out and scored on Guidry’s double to right field. Guidry moved up a base on an error during the play, which proved costly for Holy Cross when first baseman Hunter Slater followed with a sacrifice fly to center field for a 3-0 lead.
USM wasn’t through. Designated hitter Erick Hoard doubled with two outs and right fielder Matt Wallner was intentionally walked. Catcher Bryant Bowen then lifted a flyball along the right-field line that Holy Cross’ Ben Malgeri lost in the lights.
The ball fell in fair territory, sending both Hoard and Wallner home to give USM a 5-0 lead.
“Honestly, I thought that was going to be a foul ball, but I’ll take it,” Bowen said.
After Dudunakis hit, Ginn allowed two runs on two hits while striking out a pair. The first run scored on a sacrifice fly by Dudunakis and the other scored on the second of two wild pitches by Ginn.
But the Crusaders could not manage a hit over the final three innings, coaxing a two-out walk off Keys in both the seventh and eighth innings.
Guidry and Slater each had two hits, giving Slater four of USM’s 17 hits in the doubleheader.
The teams are scheduled to wrap up the three-game series at noon Saturday. Left-hander Adam Jackson is expected to his first start of the season for USM.
Junior right-hander Walker Powell allowed four base-runners over seven innings to lead the University of Southern Mississippi to a 4-1 victory over the College of Holy Cross Friday afternoon.
It was the first game of a twilight doubleheader, as the Golden Eagles shook up the original schedule to dodge inclement weather expected later in the weekend.
“Of the three phases (Friday) in this first game, pitching and defense carried us,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “We got some timely hitting and scored enough runs and didn’t beat ourselves on defense.
“And certainly, (Powell) and (reliever Alex) Nelms pitched well.”
Powell (1-0) allowed one run on three hits in seven innings, walking one and matching his career high with seven strikeouts.
“The slider, the off-speed, both were working, and I was working them in early in the count, so that definitely helped with the strikeouts,” Powell said. “I was able to put some guys away with the cutter and slider.
Nelms allowed two singles in each of the game’s final two innings, but kept the Crusaders (1-12) off the scoreboard to pick up his first save of the season.
Catcher Bryant Bowen and shortstop Will McGillis each hit solo home runs as the Golden Eagles (6-5) won their second consecutive game.
USM grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first inning against Holy Cross right-hander Pat McGowan (0-4).
Center fielder Gabe Montenegro singled and then moved to third base on McGowan’s errant pick-off attempt. After second baseman Matthew Guidry was hit by a pitch, first baseman Hunter Slater slashed a single to center to score Montenegro.
Bryant’s first clout of the season cleared the billboard in left field for a 2-0 lead, and after USM loaded the bases on a pair of walks and hit-by-pitch, Montenegro made it 3-0 with a sacrifice fly.
McGowan allowed three runs on five hits over 4 1/3 innings, walking three and striking out two.
Powell, who had not allowed a base-runner through four innings, walked third baseman Alex Gionis with an out in the fifth inning.
After first baseman Evan Blum singled to right field to break up the no-hitter, designated hitter Nate Wolf blooped a two-out single to left field to score Gionis.
But Powell got a ground out to end the inning and then set down the Crusaders in order in the sixth inning. In the seventh, Powell gave up a lead-off single before retiring the next three batters in succession.
“I definitely was in a rhythm through the first four innings,” Powell said.
McGillis’ first home run as a Golden Eagle sailed over the fence in left-center field to end the scoring.
McGillis, who came into Friday with one hit in 16 at-bats, had two hits was hit by a pitch to reach base three times. Slater and Montenegro each had two singles.
Blum had two hits for the Crusaders.