Center fielder Jaylon Keys and third baseman Luke Reynolds homered to help the University of Southern Mississippi build an early lead, and the 21st-ranked Golden Eagles downed No. 23 Mississippi State University 7-4 Saturday afternoon at Pete Taylor Park.
With Saturday’s victory, the Golden Eagles clinched the season-opening season dubbed the Farm Bureau Classic and will go for a sweep of the three-game series at 1 p.m. Sunday.
USM (2-0) built a 5-0 lead after two innings against MSU starting left-hander Ethan Small, scoring three runs in the first and then Keys and Reynolds hitting mammoth solo shots just a batter apart.
State (0-2) scored its first runs of the series in the top of the third when MSU first baseman Josh Hatcher hit a two-run home run off USM starter Stevie Powers.
But those were the only runs Powers allowed and USM tacked on two more scores in the sixth to pad its lead and offset the single runs the Bulldogs scored in the eighth and ninth innings.
For the second consecutive day, Pete Taylor Park drew one of the top 10 crowds in its history as 4,988 came through the gates to watch the two, nationally-ranked intrastate rivals square off again.
The seventh-largest crowd since The Pete opened watched as USM got to one of State’s highly-regarded left-handers early for a second consecutive day and never looked back.
Small (0-1), perhaps, deserved a better fate in the first inning, when the Golden Eagles put up three runs.
USM left fielder Mason Irby blooped a one-out single into no-man’s land in right field, Reynolds followed with a walk and right fielder Matt Wallner singled sharply to center to load the bases.
First baseman Hunter Slater then hit a crisp grounder that bounced off the chest of second baseman Hunter Stovall, who recovered to get Slater at first. But instead of a potential, inning-ending double play, the fielder’s choice drove in Irby with the game’s first run.
Catcher Bryant Bowen followed with a first-pitch, two-run single to left field and USM led 3-0.
With one out in the second, Keys mashed a an offering from Small over the “Tradition of Excellence) billboard in left field, and one out later, Reynolds launched one over the right-center field wall for a 5-0 lead.
Powers, who struck out Hunter Vansau to get out of two-on, two-out jam in the top of the first, allowed a bloop double to Mangum before Hatcher cranked the first home run of his collegiate career over the right-field wall.
But Powers bounced back set the Bulldogs in order, then got a double-play grounder to get out of a fourth-inning jam.
Powers, who allowed two runs on seven hits, was lifted after allowing a one-out single in the fifth, but Jarod Wright (1-0) came in and got an inning-ending double play to end the threat.
Wright picked up his first career win, allowing a run on four hits over 3 2/3 innings.
USM added two runs in the sixth inning off MSU reliever Denver McQuary. Second baseball Matthew Guidry came back from an 0-2 to count to reach first when he was hit by what would have been ball four, moved to second on a bunt and scored on a pinch-hit triple by Gabe Montenegro.
Montenegro scored on Irby’s fielder’s choice.
MSU added a run in the eighth on Vansau’s RBI single off Wright and scored in the ninth off reliever Adam Jackson when Tanner Allen tripled and pinch-hitter Justin Foscue drove him home with a sacrifice fly.
State out-hit USM 12-11, with Hatcher collecting three hits for a second consecutive day. Vansau and Allen had two hits apiece.
Wallner matched his career-best with three hits Saturday, while Reynolds added two more hits and scored two more runs.