HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Daniel Keating sure picked a fine time to launch the first home run of his collegiate career.
Keating’s two-run shot in the bottom of the fifth inning gave Southern Miss its first lead of the game and the Golden Eagles went on to an 8-6 victory Friday night in the opening game of a weekend series with Northwestern State at Pete Taylor Park.
The Golden Eagles (5-0) have hit at least one home run in each game this season and have 11 homers in five games after hitting 42 in 55 games in 2015.
“It’s just awesome because so much momentum builds off of that,” Keating said. “These last four games, a home run has sparked the offense. We can’t rely on that every time, but it’s great to have.”
Southern Miss, off to its best start since 2011, cranked out 12 hits Friday, giving the Golden Eagles four games with at least 10 hits or more to start the year.
But Northwestern State (3-2) made a run at the Golden Eagles, collecting 14 hits and taking advantage of three Southern Miss errors.
“Better to have an ugly win than a pretty loss,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “We didn’t play very well. Overall, we made a lot of mistakes. We were very fortunate and lucky to get out of here with a win, in all honesty.
“But we did enough to get the win, and, hopefully, we’ll learn from that and come out here (Saturday) and play better.”
Starting pitchers Cord Cockrell and Adam Oller locked horns through four scoreless innings before Northwestern State (3-2) broke through on consecutive, two-out singles by third baseman Spencer Goodwin, designated hitter Matt Valdez and right fielder Bret Underwood.
Southern Miss came back in the bottom of the fifth to tie the game.
With one out, Golden Eagles shortstop Nick Dawson singled to his Northwestern State counterpart, Matthew Alford, deep in the hole. When Alford’s throw sailed high past first base, Dawson continued to second on the error.
Right fielder Dylan Burdeaux, who matched a career-high with three hits, legged out a single after his line drive ricocheted off the shoulder of Oller. Dawson moved to third base on the play and scored on Jake Sandlin’s sacrifice fly.
The Demons took a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth. Second baseman David Fry led off with a double down the left-field line and catcher Daniel Garner followed with a single to right, moving Fry to third and ending Cockrell’s evening.
Cockrell allowed two runs on seven hits over five innings. He struck out four and walked none.
Luke Lowery relieved for one batter and got a pop out, before Alford singled off reliever Walker Powell (1-0) to score Fry. But Powell escaped further damage by getting left fielder Miller Parker to fly out and striking out Goodwin.
But the Golden Eagles came right back off Demons reliever Tim Winders (0-1) after replacing Oller to start the bottom of the sixth inning.
Oller, a two-time All-Southland Conference preseason selection, allowed one run on seven hits, while striking out five and walking one.
Left fielder Chase Scott hustled to second when Parker misplayed his fly ball in left to open the inning. After a grounder to second by catcher Chuckie Robinson moved Scott to third, Keating launched his homer to left to give the Golden Eagles the lead for good.
“I knew I hit it, but thought I hit it too high,” Keating said. “But it kept traveling.”
Southern Miss broke the game open in the seventh.
With one out, Sandlin doubled and first baseman Tim Lynch was hit by a pitch before third baseman Taylor Braley hit a sharp single past third base to score Sandlin for a 4-2 lead.
Scott walked to load the bases, knocking out Winders. Robison greeted reliever Cullen McDonald with a single to left field, scoring Lynch and giving Southern Miss a 5-2 lead.
The hit made Robinson 2 for 2 in bases-loaded situations with two RBI this season.
Keating drove in his third run of the game when he was hit by a pitch, and second baseman Storme Cooper followed with his first hit of the season, a two-run single, to give Southern Miss an 8-2 lead.
“We’ve done some (good) things in those middle innings that have proved to be game-winners, and we did that again (Friday),” Berry said.
Northwestern State hung tough, adding two runs in the eighth off Powell on a RBI-double by Alford and run-scoring single by Goodwin, and tacking on two more in the ninth on pinch hitter Cade Jones’ fielder’s choice and Cooper’s error.
But Cody Livingston, Southern Miss’ sixth pitcher, picked up his first save of the season, striking out Goodwin to end the game.
Lynch and Braley each had two hits for the Golden Eagles. Goodwin led the Demons with three hits, while Alford had two hits with two RBI and first baseman Cort Brinson, Fry and Garner added two hits each.