Southern Miss baseball will make its return to Pete Taylor Park after 346 days. The Golden Eagles will hope to sweep their opening weekend for the sixth year in a row against Northwestern State.
Opening day will look different, as the Golden Eagles have altered their weekend series three times
Southern Miss was originally rescheduled the series to be a nine-inning doubleheader on Saturday due to Northwestern State having travel difficulties from the recent weather. However, the Golden Eagles altered the schedule again as they will play a three-game series from Saturday to Monday.
Similar to opening day, the Golden Eagles’ starting rotation then what some fans may have imagined. Right-handed pitcher Hunter Stanley will start in Game 1.
“Game 1 will be Hunter Stanley, who has adapted and really converted into a starter from the reliever role in the past,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “He has really developed nicely. It was something that we had anticipated from the very beginning of the fall. Trying to get him to this point has worked well.”
Left-handed pitcher Chandler Best will follow and start the second game, and left-handed Drew Boyd will close out the series and start on Sunday.
“Saturday, we will go with Chandler Best, who was the young man that started a lot for us last year on Sundays, so we’ll go with him on the second game,” Berry said. “The third game, we will go with the left-hander Drew Boyd, who has been coming along very nicely. He had a good fall for us and really developed.”
Last season’s Friday night starter, Gabe Shepard, will start the season coming out of the bullpen after suffering an injury in the offseason.
“Shepard had a shoulder-scapula problem back in the fall,” Berry said. “We did throw him an inning this past Sunday, and he threw pretty well. We are taking him pretty slow, cautiously, in all honesty. We are not trying to push him. It hasn’t completely healed 100%. We are still trying to bring him along and will continue that until we see that he is ready to get back out there with a little heavier workload. He’ll be working out of the pen this weekend.”
The team will also be without veteran Walker Powell, who will be suspended for the first week of the season due to violating a team injury.
“Walker will start the season off with a suspension from a team violation back in the fall,” Berry said. “He’ll be out a week, or so that’s kind of where we are with that. It’s something that he regrets, but hopefully, we’ll move past that and be better for it, and I feel like we will. We will be without his services to start the season.”
Southern Miss also expects to return designated hitter Charlie Fischer for the weekend, who had also suffered a back injury in the offseason.
“He’s doing better,” Berry said. “He’s adamant about showing me that he is ready to play. He really had some good at-bats this past weekend. To me, he looked like he was full strength, in all honesty. He’s going to continue to do therapy and preventive maintenance on that back. He’ll be in there for us this weekend.”
Entering the 2021 season, Northwestern State was picked to finish fifth in the Southland Conference. Last year, Northwestern State was off to a 12-4 start before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Demons opened the season with a series win over a Wichita State team that was 13-2.
One of the main keys to Northwestern State’s success was its pitching staff, which held a team earned run average of 2.05.
However, Northwestern State lost its ace pitcher Logan Hofmann to the MLB Draft, as he was picked in the fifth round. Hofmann was the team’s Friday night starter and the biggest loss to the Northwestern roster. Last season, Hofmann held a 0.00 ERA and struck out 38 batters while walking three in 28 innings.
Of the staff’s 144.2 innings, the Demons return 107.8. Despite the loss of Hofmann, Northwestern has several viable options to piece together a formidable weekend rotation.
The team’s top returning pitcher is sophomore Jonathan Harmon. Harmon was the Demons’ Sunday starter as he recorded a 2.16 ERA, struck out 14 batters and walked nine.
Aside from Harmon, the other two spots for the weekend rotation vary.
Notably, Northwestern State’s weekend rotation lost three of its five Saturday games as the Demons went through three different Saturday starters. The only win came against North Alabama in a doubleheader.
The top three pitchers that could start against Southern Miss include Cal Carver and Levi David.
Carver started twice on Saturdays last year as he held a 1.50 ERA and recorded 22 strikeouts in 18 innings. David, who, according to D1baseball.com, now throws as hard as 97 mph and could be the possible Friday night starter. David made five appearances and struck out 10 batters while walking eight.
The top arms in the Demons’ bullpen are Josh Banes, who threw a 1.32 ERA and struck out eight batters while walking eight.
For Northwestern’s lineup, which hit .243 a season ago, the top five hitters return. The two top hitters are Lenni Kunert and Marshall Skinner. Kunert batted .351 and led the team with 14 RBI. Skinner held a .333 average and drove in 13 RBI. The lineup also brings back its top power hitters between Peyton Davis, Jeffery Elkins and Tyler Smith, who combined to have seven home runs and 31 RBI.
Saturday’s first pitch against Northwestern State is set for 5 p.m.