Six University of Southern Mississippi pitchers limited Mississippi State University to three singles Sunday as the 21st-ranked Golden Eagles swept the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs with a 5-2 victory Sunday at Pete Taylor Park.
A two-strike, two-run double into the right-center field gap by USM third baseman Luke Reynolds in the fifth inning broke a 2-2 tie and the Bulldogs did not get a hit after the fourth inning.
USM (3-0) never trailed in the three-game series dubbed “The Farm Bureau Classic” as the Golden Eagles outscored the Bulldogs 23-6 over the season-opening weekend.
“This was real big,” USM shortstop LeeMarcus Boyd said. “As you know, they put us out of the (NCAA) Regional last year, so, coming back and doing this, sweeping them this weekend, that let us know as a team that we really are going to be pretty good this year.”
For State (0-3), it marked just the third time since 1940 that the Bulldogs had started a season with at least three losses. Before this weekend, State never had lost to the same opponent three times to open a season.
USM won 11-0 Friday night and 7-4 Saturday.
“We got punched in the mouth Friday night, but we responded better on Saturday and got into a good ballgame again (Sunday),” State coach Andy Cannizaro said. “I do not think that we hit well, pitched well or defended well on the weekend, but I felt like we got better as the weekend went on.
“ … That’s an outstanding ballclub and are certainly worthy. They are a Top 10 team in the country right now, nationally.”
The series drew a Pete Taylor Park-record 14,906 for the three games, including 4,969 Sunday.
What they saw was a dominant performance by the Golden Eagles and Reynolds.
Reynolds, who had to sit the past two years after transferring from State, hit .600 in the three-game set, with six runs scored, five RBIs. Half of his six hits went for extra bases, including two doubles and a home run.
“That was pretty amazing,” Reynolds said. “There’re just no words for it. It was good, man, but I don’t know. Kind of no words for it.
“But I enjoyed every single minute of it. That was awesome.”
Freshman left-handed reliever Jacob Weirich (1-0) walked two and struck out three in 2 2/3 shutout innings, retiring the first seven batters he faced.
State left-handed reliever Zach Neff (0-1) took the loss, giving up three runs _ one earned_ on two hits in his one inning.
Matt Wallner, who came up with tough catches in center field to end the fifth and seventh innings, picked up his first save of the season. In a scoreless ninth inning, Wallner struck out two, including State freshman first baseman Josh Hatcher to end the game.
Hatcher, who had three hits in each of State’s first two games, went hitless Sunday, but scored one of the Bulldogs’ runs. Leadoff man, center fielder Jake Mangum, had a single Sunday and had at least one hit in all three games of the series.
State scored both runs in the third, sandwiching three walks between two hit-by-pitches to tie the game 2-2 off USM starter J.C. Keys and reliever Mason Strickland.
Reynolds and redshirt freshman Gabe Montenegro, who made the first start of his career Sunday, each finished with two hits.
Montenegro had an RBI-single to help USM take a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. Right fielder Mason Irby drove in the other with a bases-loaded walk.
In the fifth inning, second baseman Matt Guidry singled and Irby reached when Tanner Allen dropped a fly ball in left field.
Reynolds than ripped a 1-2 offering from Neff to the wall in right-center, scoring both Guidry and Irby.
During the play, Reynolds wound up halfway between second and third. Neff tried to catch Reynolds heading back to second, but threw high, with the ball going into center field and allowing Reynolds to score the game’s final run.