RUSTON – On a day where the Southern Miss Golden Eagles recorded 10 runs on 12 hits, the Southern Miss catchers shined the brightest in Sunday’s win over Louisiana Tech.
Cole Donaldson got the start behind the plate, but Bryant Bowen got the nod as the designated hitter. Roommates off the field, the two combined for a 5-for-6 day with eight RBI and three walks. Bowen was 3-for-3 with a home run, five RBI and two walks, while Donaldson was 2-for-3 with three RBI and a walk.
“Him and I have great chemistry,” Donaldson said. “We’re really good friends, so I told him when I was going to bat that I’m getting on (base) and to get me in. He was like, ‘I got you,’ so it’s pretty nice that we connect pretty well.”
The Golden Eagles completed the three-game sweep over their rival Bulldogs with a 10-5 win Sunday. Southern Miss moves its overall record to 11-6 and it has started Conference USA play with a perfect 3-0 record.
“At the end of the day, it’s about whether you win or lose,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “Sometimes you have to win ugly, and there’s sometimes you lose pretty. Certainly, you’d rather win ugly, but if you look at this weekend and where we are, we’re No. 1 in the conference and picked to finish No. 1 in the conference. There’s nowhere that we can go up.”
Sunday was Donaldson’s second start behind the plate this weekend, as he went 1-for-3 with a walk Friday night. Bowen started at catcher Saturday, going 0-for-3, while Donaldson came into the game late and recorded a hit in his only plate appearance. Because Erick Hoard was injured, Bowen had to step up as the DH.
Sunday marked the first time this season both were in the starting lineup at the same time, and Donaldson and Bowen hit back-to-back in the order as well.
“That was a lot of fun,” Bowen said. Me and Cole live together so we rally around one another. Just seeing him go in front of me in the first inning, I was like, ‘I’m going to back this up.’ Sure enough, we just ran together today.”
Donaldson got the scoring started early with a three-RBI double in the first inning, and it gave Southern Miss a quick 3-0 lead until Louisiana Tech scored two runs in the bottom half of the inning. Bowen smacked a single in the third inning to extend the Golden Eagles’ advantage to 4-2 before the Bulldogs, again, cut into the lead.
“In the first inning when it looks like Louisiana Tech is going to get out of it with no runs given up, (Donaldson) burns a guy in left field and we score all three runs,” Berry said. “That’s what started all the momentum.”
With a 4-3 lead, Bowen plated two more runs in the fifth inning on a double. Then in the eighth, he smacked an opposite field two-run home run halfway up the scoreboard at J.C. Love Field.
“My last prior at-bat was off the same guy, and he went four straight balls,” Bowen said. “The approach was just to look for something up, and his first two pitches were down. The 2-0 pitch, he gave me something up, and there it was.”
There’s not really a system to which catcher starts for a particular game, according to Berry. Donaldson is the better defensive catcher, but moving forward, the two can be in the lineup together a lot more often as the season progresses.
Southern Miss recorded 40 hits and scored 27 runs in the three-game series. Those numbers are a welcoming sight after struggling with leaving runners on base in recent weeks.
“I think we’ve been pressing a little bit, but it was a good weekend for us to get rolling,” Donaldson said.
Blaylock in center
For the third straight game, Brant Blaylock was the starter in center field after coming back from an injury to his non-throwing hand. Blaylock injured the hand prior to the series against Mississippi State last month, and he’s only seen time as a relief pitcher since then. He didn’t even swing a bat for the first time until Thursday.
Blaylock played right field in Matt Wallner’s absence on the opening weekend against Purdue, but it appears he’ll hold down the center position now. Besides some miscommunication with left fielder Gabe Montenegro that allowed a ball to drop, Berry thought Blaylock had an excellent weekend.
The junior went 2-for-5 with three RBI in Friday’s 12-9 win, then added a 2-for-4 day in Saturday’s 5-1 victory. On Sunday, he was 1-for-4 with two runs scored.
“He’s just a good, grinding college baseball player,” Berry said. “He just knows how to play the game. He brings the energy and I think his teammates feed off of him, and he’s kind of our guy who keeps everybody loose and going.”
Blaylock was warming up in the bullpen when Southern Miss was batting in the ninth. J.C. Keys was getting loose, too, but Berry didn’t want to throw the Oak Grove native a second time this weekend. Ryan Och ended up earning the six-out save.