HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) _ The University of Southern Mississippi got another dominating performance from its starting pitcher Saturday evening to win a second consecutive low-scoring baseball game against Murray State University.
And in the process, for a second straight day, the Golden Eagles appear to have lost a member of their starting lineup.
Senior right-hander Walker Powell scattered six singles over seven innings, walking none while striking out three as USM hung on for a 3-2 victory at Pete Taylor Park.
The Golden Eagles scored single runs in the first, sixth and eighth innings, then survived a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning from Murray State senior left fielder Ryan Perkins.
“Right now, we’re just trying to search, as a team, for a way to win,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “We’re doing it with quality pitching on the mound that’s throwing up a lot of zeroes.
“Offensively, we’re still figuring out to score runs.”
In Friday’s season opener, the Golden Eagles scored their first two runs of the game on five walks spread over the first seven hitters of the inning.
Saturday, USM didn’t wait so long, but still manufactured a run without benefit of a hit in the first inning.
Junior left fielder Gabe Montenegro was hit on the left hand on the first pitch from Murray State starter Shane Burns. Montenegro then stole second. After an out, senior second baseman Matt Guidry walked.
With the hit-and-run on, senior first baseman Brant Blaylock snapped a ground ball down to third base.
Murray State senior Jordan Cozart threw to second to try and start a double play, but running with the pitch, Guidry beat the throw.
Worse for the Racers, the relay to first base got away from junior Trey Woolsey, allowing Montenegro to come around with the game’s first run.
But the score came with what could be a very steep price. Montenegro was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the second inning and eventually left the game to have X-rays taken on his hand.
Berry said the odds of a broken bone were about “fifty-fifty, but we’re hoping it’s not too serious.”
If Montenegro broke his hand, USM could be without their leadoff hitter and starting left fielder for the foreseeable future.
USM was already without starting sophomore first baseman Will McGillis. Berry said McGillis tweaked a hamstring running out a two-out, two-run single in USM’s 6-0 Friday victory. Berry said McGillis had an issue with his hamstring, and that he was about 50 percent running on it.
Blaylock started Saturday in McGillis’ place and sophomore Hunter LeBlanc stepped in for Montenegro.
“It’s always been that way since we’ve been here,” Guidry said. “That’s our culture. You’ve just got to be ready for your time. When your number’s called, you just have to be prepared.
“You can only get nine guys in the field at one time, so not everybody can play. You’ve got guys waiting for a chance.”
USM (2-0) pushed across another run in the sixth inning when Blaylock walked, went to third base on freshman Charlie Fischer’s single to right field scored on a sacrifice fly to center by freshman Reed Trimble.
Powell (1-0) turned in a classic Powell performance: few strikeouts; lots of ground balls; no extra at-bats.
“Physically, the arm felt good, body felt good,” Powell said. “It was just good to get that first one out of the way.
“With my motion, I felt I was a little out of synch. But after the first few innings, I found my rhythm.”
USM made it 3-0 in the eighth inning when Guidry singled, took second a ground ball to the right side and scored on Fischer’s third hit of the game. Guidry came sliding in, narrowly ahead of the tag.
Murray State coach Dan Skirka disagreed with the call and made his feelings known, but USM sill was hugging a 3-0 lead ahead of what would be the Racers’ last chance in the top of the ninth.
USM reliever Hunter Stanley, who came on in the eighth inning, allowed a leadoff single to junior center fielder Jake Slunder before striking out the next two Racers.
But Perkins smashed a Stanley offering over the wall in right-center field, not only snapping a streak of 17 2/3 scoreless innings posted by USM pitching but also marking the first extra-base hit by either team in the series.
But Stanley got junior designated hitter Skylar McPhee to ground out to shortstop to end the game. Stanley allowed two runs on two hits while striking out four to pick up his first save of the season.
The teams will wrap up the three-game series at 1 p.m. Sunday. Freshman left-hander Chandler Best is scheduled to make his USM debut against a Murray State newcomer, University of Alabama transfer Sam Gardner.