HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - In just two seasons at Southern Miss, pitching coach Christian Ostrander has made quite the impression.
Despite losing Conference USA pitcher of the year Nick Sandlin to the second round of MLB Draft, the Golden Eagles return as the top pitching team in the conference.
"I think we're a laid-back program,” said USM junior right-hander Sean Tweedy. “Coach [Scott] Berry kind of treats us like big-leaguers. But this year coach Oz has grabbed us by the horn and taken us to a whole ‘nother level energy-wise. It's really helped us this year, especially with the pitching staff."
Coach “Oz” has a simple philosophy – limit walks and runs. The Golden Eagles’ 4.26 earned-run-average ranks first in the C-USA. Their 153 walks surrendered ranks second.
"As a pitcher you think about it's more important to make 'em miss, you want to make the hitter miss,” Ostrander. “You want the strikeout, this and that. Well there's times you want to go for it. It's really more important about making them hit the pitch you want. And getting guys to understand that a good two-seam sinker down and in to a right-hander to get that ground-ball to shortstop within two pitches of an [at-bat] is more important sometimes than getting that five-pitch strikeout."
Pitching to contact is another one of Ostrander’s principles. This season, he’s comfortable throwing a number of guys out there.
In 19 appearances and zero starts, Tweedy leads the team with a 6-1 record. Right-hander Hunter Stanley leads USM with a 2.67 ERA. The Meridian Community College transfer holds a 5-1 record in his first year in Hattiesburg.
Oak Grove grad J.C. Keys has struck out 39 of 87 batters faced. The senior reliever has three saves, two wins and a 2.88 ERA. Friday starter Walker Powell is a three-time C-USA Pitcher of the Week this season with a 5-2 record and team-best 51 strikeouts.
A deep pitching staff should come in handy for the Golden Eagles with tired arms down the stretch.
"Coach Oz has done a great job in getting us prepared to just pass the baton, like he always says,” Tweedy said. “Get the ball to the next guy. Even if we do good or do bad, the next guy's going to pick us up regardless." "Having a deep bullpen is huge, especially when you get to the end of the season,” Stanley said. “Everybody's arm's feeling, you know it's getting to the nitty-gritty. If your starter doesn't have his best stuff, you can kind of rely on that bullpen to go get the outs you need."
“I think going down the stretch everybody has to have the mindset that they can come in and contribute,” said USM head coach Scott Berry. “These last seven games, all hands on deck. Everybody has to be ready to go.”