BATON ROUGE, La. (WDAM) - Youth will have its day on the mound Friday afternoon for the University of Southern Mississippi during the NCAA baseball postseason at the Baton Rouge Regional.
The Golden Eagles announced Thursday afternoon that freshman right-hander Gabe Shepard would get the starting nod when third-seeded USM (38-19) opens NCAA play at noon against second-seeded Arizona State University (37-17) at Alex Box Stadium.
“It’s exciting, just exciting to be out there and do what I love doing for the team,” said Shephard, who has recovered from Tommy John surgery to become USM’s starting postseason pitcher. I hope to accomplish a lot and get a ‘W.’ I’m ready for it.”
USM’s braintrust of head coach Scott Berry and pitching coach Christian Ostrander agreed.
“Whoever we put out there, certainly have a lot of confidence and faith in,” Berry said. “I know their teammates will as well.”
Certainly, Shepard’s last two outings have inspired tremendous confidence and faith.
Against Troy University on May 14, Shepard scattered three hits and two walks over five scoreless innings, striking out nine along the way.
In the semifinal round of the 2019 Conference USA baseball tournament Saturday in Biloxi, Shepard threw 7 1/3 no-hit innings, allowing just one baserunner during that stretch on a walk while striking out 12.
When Cody Carroll and Hunter Stanley polished off the final 1 2/3 innings, the trio had orchestrated the only no-hitter in C-USA postseason history.
When USM’s season-long bulldogs on the weekend, Walker Powell (4.0 innings) and Stevie Powers (2 2/3 innings), combined to gobble up the bulk of Sunday’s championship game shutout, Shepard’s move to the front of the regional rotation received even more impetus.
“What you have to do is look at it, where you just had a tournament where two guys threw twice in it on short rest who are starter,” Berry said. “The student-athletes’ health is number one, and certainly, we don’t want to push something too far.
“Secondly, you want to give your team the best chance to win, so it’s between that, that the decision is made.”
Shepard and the Golden Eagles will have their hands full.
The Sun Devils, who finished fifth in the Pacific-10 Conference, come into the weekend as the nation’s top home-run hitting club (92), including 22 from Bishop Hunter, 21 from Spencer Torkelson and 13 from Trevor Hauver.
ASU started the season with a 21-game winning streak and stood 25-1 after 26 games.
Junior right-handed pitcher Alec Marsh (9-3) will get the call for the Sun Devils against USM. Marsh has posted a 3.17 ERA while striking out 92 and walking 33 in 98 2/3 innings.
By comparison, Shepard has appeared in 10 games, with seven starts, and has fanned 42 over 25 innings of work.
The freshman will look to an offense for support that includes junior designated hitter Bryant Bowen, who has posted a team-high .340 batting average with 11 homers and 49 RBI.
Junior Matt Wallner, the 2019 C-USA Tournament MVP, comes in with a .324 with 21 homers and 55 RBI.
All-Conference USA second-team selection Gabe Montenegro held a .323 batting mark with five homers and 22 RBI, while senior first baseman Hunter Slater added a .311 mark with 11 homers and a team-high 57 RBI. Junior second baseman Matt Guidry comes in with a .300 batting average with six homers and 38 RBI.
In the regional’s second Friday game, top-seeded Louisiana State University (37-24) hosts fourth-seeded Stony Brook University (31-21) at 6 p.m.