USM starting pitching dominates in C-USA tournament


BILOXI – There’s no denying it – the Southern Miss’ starting pitching has had a phenomenal week at the Conference USA Tournament in Biloxi.

“They’ve done a tremendous job,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said of the four starters. “Coach (Christian) Ostrander has done a great job lining those guys up and calling pitches.”

Starting with the normal weekend rotation – Nick Sandlin on Thursday, then Stevie Powers and Walker Powell – the Golden Eagles were in a position to win the first three games of the tournament and easily advance to the championship contest Sunday.

The hiccup by the bullpen in Saturday’s loss to Charlotte was the difference in not sweeping the first three games. Although, it could be argued the offense didn’t help out, because Southern Miss left 14 runners on base in the loss.

On Saturday, in a rematch against the 49ers, Mason Strickland took the ball and pitched outstanding. Strickland pitched a complete-game, four-hitter while putting up zeros on the board, and he added four strikeouts and a walk, too.

“I don’t really think there were a lot of mistakes, but you can always improve in everything you do,” Strickland said. “I’m a firm believer in that. So I have a few things to work on.”

Strickland finished the game with only 92 pitches thrown, and whether it was tongue-in-cheek or not, if the title game followed immediately after the 6-0 win over Charlotte, he said he’s ready to keep going.

“Oh, yeah. I’m ready to start first pitch,” he said with a laugh. “It might not be good, but maybe.”

Strickland’s outing is a good sign with NCAA Regional play beginning next week. The maximum of games a team could play is five games in a regional, if a team fights out of the loser’s bracket, so having more than just a weekend rotation is critical.

“Certainly it gives (the coaches) confidence and it should give our players confidence as well,” Berry said when asked about that.

Adam Jackson started the Conference Tournament final Sunday afternoon, and although he left early in the game with an injury, he still held Flordia Atlantic scoreless through 2.1 innings. He added a strikeout, walked a batter and gave up three hits during his outing. 

Combined, the five starters pitched 34.1 innings, allowed five runs – four earned – on 22 hits, walked three batters and struck out 27 opponents.

“There was a lot of talk coming into the tournament, you know, our pitching staff,” Strickland said. “You can’t compare to what Sandlin does. There was a lot of talk that the pitching staff might not be good enough, and we wanted to prove that we were.”

Sandlin began the week with a complete-game, shutout while only allowing four hits. He also struck out 12 in the contest and allowed one walk. Powers, in his first start since May 5, pitched seven innings of four-hit ball, and he allowed two earned runs with five strikeouts and no walks. Powell was hit a little harder, but he still didn’t walk a batter while striking out five. He allowed three runs – two earned – on eight hits.