BILOXI – Stevie Powers’ first start since May 5 was certainly eventful. After leaving a contest three weeks ago due to forearm soreness, the junior left-hander pitched a clean first inning before the tournament’s sixth lightning delay of the week.
By rule, a game cannot be restarted until 30 minutes after a lightning strike in an eight-mile radius of MGM Park. After about 20 minutes, when Powers started getting loose in the outfield, another strike caused the delay to be extended another 30 minutes.
In total, the delay lasted one hour and four minutes.
Powers looked visibility upset when he was asked to return to the dugout while he was warming up. Once the game resumed, Powers’ pitching propelled Southern Miss to a 5-3 win over the UTSA Roadrunners.
“(It was) really frustrating,” Powers said about the delay. “This is the type of injury where it can tighten up on you. You have to stay on top of it. I kind of was worried about it a little bit. Just keep it loose, keep heat on it and keep throwing. Underneath (the stadium), I was playing catch, too.”
The win punched Southern Miss’ ticket to the conference tournament’s semifinals. It’ll face the winner of Charlotte and UTSA, which is the late game Friday night, and first pitch is slated for 4 p.m. Saturday.
“(My arm) felt great,” Powers said. “I think these past three weeks being with Josh (Walker), our trainer, and getting back with him really did me a lot of wonders. Especially today, I felt great and I was just really anxious to get back out there.”
PHOTOS: Click for photos from the game.
Powers recorded two strikeouts in the first inning after the delay, then added another 1-2-3 inning in the third inning as the offense pushed ahead 3-0. Sophomore Matt Wallner and senior Daniel Keating gave the Golden Eagles a 2-0 lead in the first inning with RBI singles, then Wallner sent his 14th homer – a no-doubter to right field – to take a 3-0 lead.
“Fastball pretty much right in the middle of the plate,” Wallner said. “If I missed that one, I’d be in trouble. It’s good to get one of those every once in a while because fastballs seem few and far between sometimes for me.”
Powers did falter in the fourth inning by allowing a two-run home run to left field, which cut Southern Miss’ lead to 3-2. He allowed a lone single in the fifth inning, pitched a 1-2-3 frame in the sixth then stranded two bases runners in the seventh to finish his day.
He recorded five strikeouts in his return with no walks, a hit batter and two earned runs on four hits.
“Just a steady mix of all four pitches,” Powers said. “Just being able to throw all four for a strike, feeling good, feeling healthy and being able to expand the plate a little bit on those hitters. I think early and often, I was throwing everything for a strike, which made them second guess some stuff and I was able to keep them off-balanced.”
Leading 4-2, senior Trent Driver pitched the final two innings to earn the save, but he ran into some trouble in the eighth. UTSA had a one-out single and a two-out single to put two on base, then another single cut USM’s lead to 4-3. With a runner at third base, Driver got a groundout to end the threat.
In the ninth, UTSA had runners on first and second with one out but a fantastic play by Southern Miss third baseman Luke Reynolds ended the game. Reynolds collected a chopper, tag the runner who was in motion on the pitch and fired to first for the double play.
“That’s your conference Player of the Year,” Berry said.
Sophomore Walker Powell will start Saturday’s game, which keeps the normal weekend rotation intact for the Golden Eagles.