HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - After dodging a first-inning threat from Old Dominion University, the University of Southern Mississippi quickly established that it simply wasn’t going to be satisfied with winning a Conference USA baseball series.
USM leadoff man Gabe Montenegro singled and scored the game’s first run and then capped a seven-run first inning with a two-run triple Sunday as the Golden Eagles pummeled the visiting Monarchs 9-0 at Pete Taylor Park.
“I think (the players) wanted to pick off where they left off (Saturday), and that’s exactly what they did,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “We did some things really well, a couple hit-and-runs. We were aggressive all weekend.”
The win, USM’s 11th in its last 12 games, gave the Golden Eagles (15-6, 6-0 C-USA) a second consecutive sweep of a conference series.
USM outscored the Monarchs 34-4 in the three game set, collecting 37 hits. In doing so, the Golden Eagles also extended their streak of games with at least 10 hits to eight.
The Golden Eagles also got another standout performance from their bullpen, with five pitchers combining for 7 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits with no walks.
Behind Walker Powell’s complete-game shutout in USM’s 11-0 victory Friday, USM recorded two shutouts in a C-USA series for the first time since turning the trick in May 2015.
“No bigger statement was made than the pitching staff with two shutouts against an ODU team that came in hitting .296,” Berry said. “On the flip side, their numbers were really good there, too, a sub. 3.00 ERA and a .212 batting-average-against. So, we did a great job against that.”
Odds on a second series shutout appeared elevated the way the game started.
USM starting pitcher Gabe Shepard opened the game by alternating walks and strikeouts between the first five hitters in ODU’s batting order. But the bases loaded, Shepard struck out right fielder Matt Schwarz with the bases loaded and two outs.
The Golden Eagles then immediately went to work on ODU starter Morgan Maguire (0-2). Montenegro singled and Matt Guidry followed with his third home run of the season, a ball that carried over the center-field wall for a 2-0 lead.
Hunter Slater followed with a double, and after a grounder moved him to third base, Bryant Bowen walked, leaving runners on the corners.
Matt Wallner, Erick Hoard and Danny Lynch followed with singles to score three more runs to put USM up 5-0, and after a strikeout, Montenegro tripled into the left-center field gap, putting the Golden Eagles up 7-0.
Shepard walked the leadoff man in the second, got the next two outs and then was lifted in favor of left-handed reliever Sean Tweedy (2-0).
Tweedy got out of the second, then posted consecutive 1-2-3 innings. Right-hander Alex Nelms worked a clean fifth inning and got the first two outs in the sixth, running ODU’s string of consecutive outs to 14.
Nelms did allow a two-out single and then hit a batter to put an ODU runner in scoring position, but he got a strike out to close out the inning.
Reliever Aaron Ginn only last two batters in the seventh inning, giving up a one-out double to catcher Jared Hancock. But his replacement, Hunter Stanley, got two flyballs to end the inning and then worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning.
Ryan Och wrapped up the game with clean ninth inning.
Tweedy said the way the offense has been producing has been a huge boost to the pitching staff.
“Honestly, it just set the tone for the pitchers to come in and fill the (strike) zone up,” Tweedy said. “All we had to do was throws strikes in there and we were able to win.”
After USM’s first-inning outburst, Hoard drove in USM’s last two runs. He hit a RBI single in the second inning and then swatted his first home of the season in the fifth inning.
Hoard finished with three hits, three RBIs and two runs scored in his first appearance of the weekend. Montenegro had two hits, a run scored and two RBIs.
“We went through a little slump there and a lot of people were talking about the offense not producing and the pitching carrying us,” Hoard said. “But now, we’re both carrying each other, but, yeah, it feels good to get the batts going and get on a roll here a little bit.”
USM will begin a four-game stretch away from home, travelling to Zephyr Field in Metairie, La., to take on Nicholls State University at 6:30 p.m.