HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - One weekend series does not a Conference USA baseball season make.
But the University of Southern Mississippi could not have gotten off to a better start this in Ruston, Louisiana.
The Golden Eagles (16-4, 3-0 C-USA) pounded out double-digit hits in each of the three games at the Louisiana Tech University (15-5, 0-3) and mixed steady starting pitching with sterling relief to sweep the three-game series against the nation's 23rd-ranked team.
Southern Miss opened conference play with a sweep for the first time since 2006, when the Golden Eagles took all three games at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
The Golden Eagles cranked out 39 hits in the three games, including nine doubles and seven home runs.
USM finished off the weekend with an 8-5 victory Sunday, jumping out to a 7-0 lead. The Bulldogs rallied for five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, but reliever Nick Sandlin (4-0) entered with no outs and quelled the uprising, then posted three more innings of scoreless relief.
USM added a run in the eighth inning, and Stevie Powers worked a hitless ninth inning to pick up his first save of the season.
collected 12 Sunday, including home runs by third baseman Taylor Braley, center fielder Matt Wallner and designated hitter Matt Guidry.
The second through fifth hitters in the USM were potent Sunday, with right fielder Mason Irby, left fielder Hunter Slater, Braley and Wallner going 8-for- 19 (.421) with six runs scored and seven RBI.
Wallner, who drove in USM's first run with an RBI-grounder in the first inning, gave the Golden Eagles a 3-0 lead in the third with a two-run shot, his second of the weekend and fourth of the season.
Guidry led off the fourth inning with the first home run of his USM career, and Braley added his second, three-run home run of the series and sixth of the season in the four-run inning that put the Golden Eagles up 7-0.
USM starter J.C. Keys, who allowed just two hits through the first four innings, got roughed up in the fifth, when Tech got to him and reliever Colt Smith for six hits and four runs.
Sandlin entered the game with men on first and third base with no outs. He gave up a sacrifice fly to Chase Lunceford, then sandwiched two strikeouts around a walk to get out of the inning.
Sandlin scattered four hits over the next three innings, and Irby drove in the final run with a single in the eighth.
The sweep completed a weekend that saw USM open with a 5-2 win Friday night behind the pitching of Kirk McCarty and Wallner.
McCarty (3-2) allowed two runs on seven hits over six innings, walking one while striking out eight. Wallner picked up his first career save with three innings of no-hit baseball, walking one and striking out two.
USM broke a 2-2 tie with a three-run sixth inning. Catcher Bryant Bowen's bases-loaded single put the Golden Eagles ahead for good, and they tacked on two more runs on shortstop LeeMarcus Boyd's walk and first baseman Dylan Burdeaux's sacrifice fly.
USM collected 10 hits, including two apiece by second baseman Casey Maack and Bowen. Burdeaux drove in three runs, including a two-run single in the second inning.
The Golden Eagles buried the Bulldogs under a barrage of 17 hits Saturday, including four home runs and seven doubles in a 13-9 victory.
Braley, Maack, Irby and Wallner each hit home runs, while Slater hit three doubles and drove in three runs.
Irby had three hits, including a double and home run, scored three times and drove in three runs.
Braley hit a double and home run and drove in three runs, Burdeaux and Boyd each had three hits, including a double apiece, while Wallner had two hits, including a home run, and scored twice.
Starting pitcher Hayden Roberts (2-1) allowed four runs (three earned) over 5 2/3 innings, walking three and striking out six. Sandlin came in to get the last out in the bottom of the ninth to log his second save of the season.
USM, which has won seven consecutive games, will take on Mississippi State University at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Pearl, before opening home conference play with a three-game set with Marshall University starting at 6 p.m. Friday.