Blaylock continues hot start; '1-2 punch' on the mound dominates Saturday

By CAMAL PETRO,

HATTIESBURG – Junior Brant Blaylock is listed as a right-handed pitcher on Southern Miss’ roster, but he’s yet to make an appearance on the bump through the first two games of the 2019 season.

But, he’s 3-for-6 from the plate with three runs, two RBI and a home run. A day after helping Southern Miss comeback to beat Purdue in Game 1 of the three-game series, he started in right field and assisted in the 4-2 Game 2 win Saturday over the Boilermakers.

“The young man is a gamer, and that’s what we need,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “When the guy behind the plate says ‘play ball,’ that’s what we’ve got to have.”

The Golden Eagles will go for the sweep of their Big 10 foe Sunday at 10:30 a.m. The time was moved from its original 1 p.m. start due to inclement weather in the afternoon.

Blaylock didn’t know he would start Saturday’s contest until batting practice prior to the game. Matt Wallner, who’s primed to take over the position when he’s healthy, told the junior college transfer the news.

“I was really pumped about that,” Blaylock said. “I always prepare like I’m going to start, regardless. Nothing really changed. Just getting ready the same way I always do.”

The Northwest Community College transfer already seems comfortable in a Golden Eagles’ uniform. A day after hitting a pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning to cut Purdue’s lead to one, he didn’t disappoint when he needed to get a big hit Saturday.

“I’m feeling very comfortable,” he said. “The guys, the returners, those guys have done a really good job of making everybody feel included and helping the new guys, whether we’re young or whether we’re old, breeze through the game and help us out as we go along.”

While Blaylock began Saturday’s game 0-for-2 from the dish, he came up clutch again in the sixth inning. Trailing 2-0, Hunter Slater and Matt Wallner began the frame with back-to-back singles, then Blaylock singled through the left side to plate Southern Miss’ first run.

He’d eventually scored to give Southern Miss a 3-2 lead, but not before Wallner tied the game with heads up base running. After Blaylock’s single put runners on first and second with no outs, Cole Donaldson flew out to right to send Wallner to third. When an errant throw back came back into the infield, Wallner sprinted home to tie the game.

Southern Miss made it 4-2 in the eighth inning when Fred Franklin hit a sac fly to center field to score Donaldson.

Blaylock joked about being listed as a pitcher, but Berry acknowledged that he will eventually get his shot on the mound.

“No doubt,” Berry said. “He’s got a power arm with a good breaking ball and he’s highly competitive. He likes that side of the game, too. He likes the pitching side.”

Dominant pitching

Senior Stevie Powers returned to his normal Saturday starting role for Southern Miss, but the left-hander’s season didn’t start as well as he would have liked. He allowed two early runs in the second and third innings, and even in the first, Purdue’s two-hole hitter, Owen Jansen, put a charge into a pitch, but it was caught at the wall.

In the second inning, Powers allowed two singles to the first two batters, then a fielder’s choice scored the game’s first run. In the third inning, Powers was called for a balk to plate another Boilermaker run.

“I don’t think I’ve done that since the first time I’ve ever taken the mound,” Powers said of his balk.

After the balk, though, Powers retired 10 straight batters before his night was done. In his six innings of work, he allowed the two runs – one earned – on two hits with six strikeouts and no walks.

“It felt so good (to get back on the mound),” Powers said. “We’ve been wanting this and we’ve been anxious. To get back out there, it felt really good.”

Junior Cody Carroll entered in the seventh inning, and he sent down the first six Purdue batters he faced. While he gave up a hit to start the ninth inning, thanks to a double play, he faced the minimum in his outing.

“It felt pretty good,” Carroll said. “It felt really good to be as collectively good as the (pitching) staff was tonight.”

Carroll knew his name would be called Saturday, and he knew he was going to be the first one out of the bullpen as well. Powers would be more than happy to give him the ball every Saturday, too.

“He’s come a long way,” Powers said. “Cody, he’s one who gets very energized, gets pumped up, and tonight he was calm, poised and collected. He went out there and did his thing. It’s very much what he’s capable of doing.

“I like that 1-2 punch. I can do that every Saturday.”