OXFORD – The ending of Southern Miss pitcher Walker Powell's career was the epitome of his career with the Golden Eagles.
Powell pitched his last inning in relief on Monday of the Oxford Regional, and – like most of his career –he was good as he gave up no hits and struck out three batters after having thrown 81 pitches two days earlier.
On the field, Powell's Southern Miss career has been filled with success. In 340 innings, Powell struck out 275 batters and walked just 56, and posted a career 2.72 earned run average. Let's not forget that he picked up his 30th win against Southeast Missouri, which ranks him second in all-time wins in program history.
There is no question, Powell was at his peak. His ability to consistently throw five different pitches, which are a fastball, slider, curveball, changeup, and, of course, his signature cutter, is what has made him so effective through the years.
Before the start of the regional, if you asked Powell if it seems like he's worn a Golden Eagle uniform for a while, well, he'd say you're correct.
"It's been over half a decade," Powell joked. "It's been six years. I may have heard that once or twice. I've been here for a while. I've been on a lot of teams. It's crazy how many different players I have played with."
Powell's long tenure can be pointed to having to take a medical redshirt and then, of course, the lost COVID-19 season, which allowed him to return for one more year.
Powell has had nothing but success on the field, but off the field, things have been somewhat of a rollercoaster. Most famously, for being known as the guy who has had not one but two Tommy John surgeries.
Powell was forced to have his first Tommy John surgery at Fayetteville high school, which led to him not gaining much exposure.
"My junior year of high school, I didn't pitch a whole lot," Powell said. "I was like the No. 4 starter, so I had to go off somewhere to go play and get noticed."
That summer, Powell went to play in a summer tournament in Atlanta, where he met former Southern Miss pitching coach Mike Federico. Federico, coincidentally, was at the tournament with the intention of scouting Southern Miss all-time great Nick Sandlin.
After receiving several offers, the best fit for Powell was Southern Miss, and almost right away, he produced. In his freshman year, he made 18 appearances with four starts and struck out 32 batters while walking nine.
Then in the C-USA tournament semifinals against Marshall, the unthinkable happened. Mid-game, Powell tore his UCL and needed Tommy John surgery again for the second time in his baseball career.
"It was in the third or fourth inning," Powell said. "I could feel something. I threw a fastball, and it was like 80 mph. I threw another pitch, and it was 80 again, so I knew something was torn.
"It caused me to go through a lot of adversity."
Southern Miss coach Scotty Berry still admires Powell for how he recovered from the surgery a second time.
"When you look at his career, you look at a guy who persevered in all the things, the setbacks, and the two Tommy John surgeries," Berry said. "He's the first I've ever known to have two Tommy Johns. The ability of him to persevere after one rehab, which is tough enough, but then to tear that ligament and do it again. I think that speaks volumes for him, his person, and his commitment to play the game as long as he can. We are very fortunate that he decided to come back his last year. It has paid dividends for him and for us as well."
Powell put together two strong seasons, and in his senior year, he was off to the best start of his career, that is, until the pandemic abruptly ended the 2020 season. In four games, he had struck out 22 batters, walked just one and held a 1.24 ERA. For Powell, he felt not only that it was his best baseball to date but that the season was going to help him achieve his dream opportunity to play professional baseball.
"That's always been my goal," Powell said. "Last year sucked because they cut the draft down to five rounds. I was on my way to my best season at the beginning of the year. I felt really good.
"I have always wanted to pro ball. That's always the plan since day one. That's what I have had my eyes on."
His time away from the field made him appreciate the game but fueled him even more with chasing his dream. So when the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility, it was a no-brainer for Powell to return.
"I went home and worked," Powell said. "I did landscaping jobs and got a job selling kitchen cutlery.
"Honestly, it didn't take me long to decide (to come back). The goal is to play in the major leagues. I can always go to work, join the everyday life of the workforce. I feel like if I hung it up that I would regret it and want this year back."
That decision paid off because his effort on the mound earned him Conference USA Pitcher of the Year this past season.
"Pitcher of the year was honestly the cherry on top for my career," Powell said. "I've dealt with a bunch of stuff and two Tommy John surgeries. Pitcher of the Year I felt was something I've come close to it a couple of times. I've always known that I could do it. It was a storybook ending for me to get it my last year."
Whether he gets to achieve his dream of playing professional baseball is yet to be seen, but what is certain is that his time as a Golden Eagle will always be remembered.
"I can't put it into words," said Powell when asked to sum up his career after Southern Miss' win over Southeast Missouri State on Saturday. "Southern Miss has been such a blessing to me and my family. I could be here for hours if I had to sum up my career.
"It's been incredible. I couldn't ask for a better program to be in for these last six years. I'm an old man now, but it's been awesome."