HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - USM Press Release
Three Southern Miss pitchers checked UTSA on six hits and one earned run as the Golden Eagles ran away to an 11-2 Conference USA victory Friday night at Taylor Park.
Southern Miss collected 14 hits, the most in a C-USA game this season, with third baseman Taylor Braley smashing 2016's first grand slam among his three hits and center fielder Jake Sandlin posting his fourth game of the year with at least three hits.
With the win, the Golden Eagles (18-6, 4-1 C-USA) pocketed its second consecutive conference series of the season and fifth in a row dating to last spring.
"It comes with a lot of hard work," USM coach Scott Berry said, "but now you given yourself a chance to do something special."
Southern Miss starter Cord Cockrell (4-0) allowed a run on three hits over five innings, and Jake Winston - in his first relief appearance of the season after five starts - closed the door, allowing only an unearned run on two hits over the final 3 1/3 innings.
But the Golden Eagles got a big boost from freshman reliever Stevie Powers, who came into the game after the Roadrunners (10-12, 1-4) had loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the sixth inning.
Powers struck out left fielder Ryan Stacy before shortstop Tyler Straub dropped a single into short center to make it 4-1.
That left the bases loaded, but Powers struck out designated hitter Jason Serchay, before giving way to Winston, who needed just one pitch to get catcher Mason George to ground out to end the threat.
"For that freshman to come in and do what he did in that situation that was big," Berry said. "I mean, bases loaded, and they're a hit away from really getting something going against us.
"Then, we turn it over to Jake, and one pitch, and he gets the third out. So, that was a huge momentum inning right there that was really shut down by Stevie Powers and Jake."
The Golden Eagles chipped away early at UTSA starter Aaron Burns (2-3), who had earned Conference USA Pitcher of the Week honors after pitching a complete game against Rice last weekend, with a run in the first and fourth innings.
By the time Burns was lifted in the bottom of the sixth inning, he had tied his career high in hits allowed (10) in a UTSA game.
Four Golden Eagles finished with multiple hits Friday, including three-hit games for Braley and Sandlin. Right fielder Dylan Burdeaux and shortstop Nick Dawson each had two hits and two runs scored, while Sandlin also scored twice.
But after a prolonged March slump, Braley's bat has turned red hot again.
In his last three games, Braley has gone 7 for 11 (.636) with eight RBIs, three runs scored. He has homered in each of the Golden Eagles' last three games, matching a similar stretch from late February.
The grand slam was the first by a Golden Eagle since Michael Sterling cleared the bases against Western Kentucky on April 11, 2015.
"I was mainly getting myself out," Braley said of a nine-game stretch where he managed just four hits and two RBIs. "I was swinging at bad pitches, just getting in pitchers' counts and not hitters' counts. I'm trying to lay off doing that, and just trying to see the ball well."
Southern Miss touched Burns for an unearned run and 1-0 lead in the first inning.
Burdeaux and Sandlin started the inning with opposite-field singles. After each moved up a base on Burns' errant pickoff attempt, first baseman Tim Lynch followed with a chopper to first to score Burdeaux.
Southern Miss made it 2-0 in the fourth inning. Left fielder Chase Scott led off with a double down the left-field line, moved to third on a fly to right and scored on designated hitter Hunter Slater's two-out, opposite-field single to left field.
The Golden Eagles went up 4-0 an inning later. Burdeaux and Sandlin singled, and Lynch followed with an opposite-field single to left-center to make it 3-0. Sandlin, who had moved to third on Lynch's hit, scored on a double-play groundout.
After UTSA got on the board in the sixth, Southern Miss knocked Burns from the game in the bottom of the inning, using Lynch's bases-loaded walk and Scott's run-scoring grounder to score twice for a 6-1 lead.
UTSA made it 6-2 in the seventh inning when Dawson threw the ball away at third base trying to get a force out.
In an eighth inning, catcher Chuckie Robinson forced in the first run with a bases-loaded walk, and Braley smashed a 2-2 offering from reliever Derek Craft over the left-field fence.
Right fielder Skyler Valentine, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games, and third baseman C.J. Pickering each had two of the Roadrunners' six hits.
The teams will wrap the series at 11 a.m. Saturday.