Southern Miss' highly anticipated opening day had showcased some highs and lows for the Golden Eagles as they split their Sunday doubleheader against Northwestern State.
The loss to Northwestern State snaps Southern Miss' streak of sweeping opening weekend dating back to 2015.
On one side, the highly touted Golden Eagles baseball pitching staff had a recording-breaking day as the staff accumulated 33 strikeouts, with starter Hunter Stanley recording 13 and relief pitcher Ben Ethridge racking up 12. Despite losing the second game, the pitching staff tied the school record for strikeouts in a game at 19, which was set in 1948.
At the same time, Southern Miss' hitting went cold in Game 2 after coming up with eight hits in the first game. The Golden Eagles had just two hits and despite drawing 10 walks. In total, Southern Miss stranded 11 baserunners and struck out 12 times.
"I thought the (pitching staff) competed well," Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. "It's hard for me to sit here as the head coach and look at the big picture of both the pitching staff and the offense and say, 'How in the world do you strike out 19 and walk two, but then you are on the receiving end of 10 walks but strikeout 12 times and only get two hits?' It doesn't make a lot of sense."
In the first game, the Golden Eagles rode Stanley's arm as he recorded 13 strikeouts - the most on opening day in the Scott Berry era for a 5-0 win over Northwestern State.
"It's a little different mindset for me," Stanley said. "Coming out of the pen, it was kind of blow and go. You give everything you've got with every pitch. Starting, you have to know when to take something off here and there and when to reach back and throw one. I think starting all this fall and early in the spring help me in the transition."
Stanley, the closer turned starter, was immediately effective to start the game as he struck out the first batters of the game.
"We were getting ahead early, establishing (the fastball)," Stanley said. "They were taking some pretty healthy hacks. We knew that going in. The second or third time through the lineup, I started spinning some breaking balls.
"That was something I worked on over the summer and the fall as far as scrimmages and practices. I think that can be a separator for me moving forward, especially once you get these scouting reports out. I was fastball heavy in the past."
In the bottom of the first inning, Coastal Alabama CC transfer got the Golden Eagles on the board with an RBI sac fly that drove in Montenegro, who doubled to lead the inning off.
Southern Miss added two more runs from a home run by third baseman DJ Lynch, which was the team's first of the season.
The Golden Eagles then added insurance runs with an RBI single from Montenegro and an RBI double from Sargent to extend their lead 5-0.
In seven innings of work, Stanley struck out the side three times as he gave up one hit and walked one batter.
Northwestern State's lone run came in the eighth inning as relief pitcher Aubrey Gillentine gave up a two-out home run. Gillentine recorded a save as he allowed one run off two hits while striking out one batter.
In the second game, starting pitcher Chandler Best had an opposite start compared to Stanley as he allowed five runs on seven hits in 2.1 innings of work to give Northwestern State an early 5-0 lead.
Ethridge then took the mound with his only flaw of the night came in the sixth inning as he gave up a two-out RBI double to extend the Demons' NSU added a run in the top of the ninth from an infield single to seal the 7-1 loss.
"I thought Ben Ethridge did an outstanding job coming in out of the bullpen and keep the score where we needed him to and get our offense back," Berry said. "Offensively, we just didn't compete well enough to get ourselves back in it."
Southern Missed' offense failed to capitalize on bases loaded situations in the second and seventh inning.
"I thought that we had some really non-competitive at-bats," Berry said. "In the first game, we struck out five times. We put balls in play and balls that were barreled up pretty good and didn't have anything to show for it. We made contact and put them in play. Game 2, we strike out 12 times. Some of those were crucial times when we could have got something going.
"You tip your hat to Northwestern State and their pitchers. They did what they had to do. Our competitive side of us didn't show up in Game 2 like it needs to."
The series will close on Monday, with first pitch for the rubber match set for 12 p.m.
"Both teams are trying to win a series," Berry said. "We are at home, and we need to come out and compete and learn how to win. We missed an opportunity today to win two and put ourselves in a position to sweep. The most important game right now is the one tomorrow."