HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Taylor Braley and Dylan Burdeaux picked up where they left off last baseball season, powering The University of Southern Mississippi to a season-opening 9-4 victory Friday evening over Northeastern University at Taylor Park.
Braley blasted two, mammoth home runs to left field, driving in three runs, while Burdeaux drove in four more with a single and game-changing, three-run homer as the Golden Eagles gave Coach Scott Berry the 250th victory of his USM career.
"We came out kind of slow," said Braley, who missed more than the last half of the 2016 season after tearing up a knee at Charlotte in April. "But we kind of picked it up after we went through the (batting order) against their guy. It was a good way to start."
Braley, who like Burdeaux was named a Preseason All-Conference USA selection this spring, said he had not been swinging the bat particularly well during either the fall or spring practices.
"It felt good," Braley said. "It's been a long time, but it definitely felt really good. Just kind of picked up where I left off. Now, I'll just try and keep it going."
Burdeaux's homer to left-center with two outs in the sixth inning followed second baseman Storme Cooper's go-ahead single earlier in the inning.
"Yeah, I knew that one was gone," said Burdeaux, who shifted to first base from right field this season but remained atop the Golden Eagles' batting order. "I hit that one pretty good."
The muscle-flexing came at more-than-opportune times, as Northeastern scrapped with Southern Miss through the first five innings before 3,234, the largest Taylor Park opening-day crowd since 2013.
USM starting right-hander Hayden Roberts struck out a personal-best 11 batters in the first, regular-season start of his career. It was the most whiffs by a Golden Eagle since Christian Talley struck out 11 Murray State batters in the Golden Eagles' 2015 season opener.
But the Huskies also nicked Roberts for three runs on seven hits through five innings.
"He only threw 13 1/3 innings last year, so he's not a kid who played the whole season for us," Berry said. "He was a guy who we implemented in the rotation late, particularly when (former USM starter) Cord Cockrell started going down with his labrum issues. So, (Roberts) hasn't had a lot of game experience on the mound since his Tommy John surgery his sophomore year in junior college.
"I thought he did really well because he limited them in runs, gave his offense and his team a chance to get back in it."
Northeastern starter Mike Fitzgerald was not as flashy, but just effective, holding the Golden Eagles to three runs on five hits, with three strikeouts and three walks in five innings.
The Huskies took a 1-0 lead in the first on a run-scoring single by first baseman Cam Hanley before USM broke through in the third inning against Fitzgerald.
Shortstop LeeMarcus Boyd doubled and tied the game on Burdeaux's single. Burdeaux moved to second when right fielder Mason Irby was hit by a pitch, went to third base on a double-play grounder and scored on a wild pitch to put USM up 2-1.
A few pitches later, Braley hit a no-doubt-about-it homer into the woods behind the left-field fence to give USM a 3-1 lead.
But back came the Huskies, who tied the game on RBI-singles by center fielder Mason Koppens and second baseman David Hopkins. But USM left fielder Hunter Slater preserved the tie, throwing out left fielder Charlie McConnell out at the plate to end the inning.
Northeastern threatened to break the tie in the sixth, but Stevie Powers (1-0) came out of the bullpen to get two plays at third base to work out of a one-out jam.
USM took control in the bottom of the inning against reliever Nate Borges (0-1). Designated hitter Daniel Keating led off with a walk, stole second, moved to third on an error and scored on Cooper's crisp, one-out single up the middle.
After catcher Cole Donaldson was out at the plate on a squeeze play, Burdeaux lifted a long fly to left-center that put the Golden Eagles up 7-3.
In the seventh, Braley followed a walk by Slater with a two-run shot to left off reliever David Stiehl. It was the second, multi-homer game of Braley's career.
"I don't know that I can say I was looking to do that, but I don't think I can say I was surprised, either," Braley said.
Designated hitter Pat Madigan wrapped up the scoring in the ninth inning with a two-out, solo shot off reliever Calder Mikell.
Koppens had three of the Huskies' 11 hits, while McConnell and third baseman Scott Holzwasser had two hits apiece.
Burdeaux and Braley each had two hits, combining for seven of USM's eight RBIs. The two and Boyd each scored a pair of runs.
The two teams are scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Saturday. Left-hander Kirk McCarty is expected to get the pitching start for USM, facing off against Northeastern left-hander Andrew Misiaszek.
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