Southern Miss baseball and the state of Mississippi were well represented this past weekend during the series between the Cleveland Guardians and Minnesota Twins.
Naturally, Mississippi baseball players were at the forefront of hardware as the two clubs battled for first place in the American League Central Division.
Making headlines in Hattiesburg was former All-American outfielder Matt Wallner, being promoted by his hometown team, the Minnesota Twins.
Wallner has been electric this past year in the minors as his hitting erupted. In 128 games between both Double-A Wichita and Triple-A St. Paul this season, he produced a combined .277 batting average with 32 doubles, four triples, 27 home runs and 95 RBI to go along with an on-base percentage of .412 and a slugging percentage of .512.
For Golden Eagle fans, it is no surprise to see Wallner have success on the next level. During his three years in Hattiesburg, he posted a .337 batting average with 39 doubles, two triples, a school-record 58 home runs and 190 RBI. The three-time All-America selection garnered both National Freshman of the Year by Baseball America and Freshman Hitter of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association in 2017.
Joining Wallner in the series, in opposite uniforms, were former Southern Miss pitchers Kirk McCarty and Nick Sandlin.
Fittingly enough, the trio were all teammates during the 2017 season and helped the Golden Eagles host its second-ever regional as well as win over 50 games.
McCarty, an Oak Grove alum, made his MLB debut earlier in May, while Sandlin was called up last year and has since been a pivotal piece of the Guardians’ electric bullpen.
The trio had their fair share of highlights for Southern Miss fans. Wallner homered in his debut and has since collected three hits in his last four games.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Wallner told reporters after being called up. “It’s a day I have been looking forward to for my whole life.
“I was laying in bed, and Toby Gardenhire (manager of the St. Paul Saints) called me and let me know. I called my fiancé, Sydney. I then called one of my buddies who plays for Cleveland, and I let them know that I’ll be seeing them. It’s pretty cool, and my parents, obviously.”
McCarty picked up a crucial win for the Guardians during a 15-inning marathon in which he struck out three batters, walked one and allowed one run off two hits in three innings before collecting his fourth win of the season. Notably, McCarty also got Wallner to fly out.
“The numbers were dwindling in the bullpen,” said McCarty just after earning his win and avoiding a Gatorade bath. “I was watching guys go out and do their job. I was hoping we would win it earlier, but if it gets to me, I’m ready to go execute and go compete.
“It was just one of those moments where every pitch is everything you have got until the end of the game…It was super special and a ton of fun.”
Sandlin, who was named National Pitcher of the Year during his time at USM, made appearances in four games in the series. In one instance, Sandlin took the mound just after Wallner was hit by a pitch but got out of the jam by inducing a double play. So far this season, Sandlin holds a 5-2 record and a 2.25 ERA.
Let’s also not forget there were some other Mississippi names that were featured active in the series, which included Taylorsville alum Billy Hamilton, who suited up for Twins, as well as Pascagoula native and Mississippi State alum Konnor Pilkington. Pilkington started on Saturday and struck out six batters and allowed one walk and one hit in 5.2 innings.
Yet Southern Miss’ representation in MLB this season doesn’t stop there, as former catcher Chuckie Robinson debuted with the Cincinnati Reds last month. In his debut, he recorded a hit and then the next game collected his first major league home run and has since remained in the lineup.
Wallner becomes the 22nd Golden Eagle to make his debut in MLB, and it’s the most players the program has had active at once.