HATTIESBURG – Things were looking bleak for Southern Miss right-hander Walker Powell in the first inning. Marshall was getting to the Southern Miss starter early, but it was going to take a lot more for Southern Miss to pull him.
“No, there really wasn’t,” Scott Berry said when asked if there were conversations about taking Powell out of the game. “We have got to give that bullpen a rest. You’ve got to allow a guy like Walker, who’s your Friday guy, to try and work out of it.”
After allowing Marshall to score three runs in the first inning, Powell settled in and put zeros on the board to allow the Golden Eagles’ bats to come back and win 10-3 in Game 1 of the three-game series against the Thundering Herd. The Golden Eagles and Marshall will play a doubleheader Saturday starting at 11 a.m.
Marshall had four of its 10 hits in the opening frame, and Powell pitched 21 total pitches. The 6-foot-7 junior thought he was making good pitches, but the Marshall hitters capitalized on a few mistakes he made.
“I think the biggest difference from that first inning on was I was able to land my off-speed low in the zone for strikes,” Powell said.
Southern Miss pitching coach Christian Ostrander did visit Powell in the first inning, and the message was simple. Powell said the two talked about staying calm because it was going to take a lot more damage to beat Southern Miss.
“Our offense is as good as anybody in the country, so three runs weren’t going to beat us,” Powell said. “Me and him both knew that we’d put up some runs, so I had to keep executing and get out of that inning. Just settle in, and that’s what I did.”
Powell allowed a hit each in the second, third and fourth innings, but sat down the Marshall hitters 1-2-3 in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings before allowing a one-out double in the eighth. He did allow another double in the ninth, which gave Marshall six extra-base hits in the contest. Powell, however, worked around most of those hits.
On 109 total pitches, he finished with seven strikeouts, tying a career high, while walking none and giving up the three early earned runs. Friday was the third time in his career he’s struck out seven, too, and it was his second complete game – both coming this season.
“Kind of like the Old Dominion game, I just started rolling,” Powell said. “My pitch count wasn’t too high, so (Ostrander) kept saying, ‘You good?’ I said, ‘Yeah, good to go.’”
The Southern Miss offense answered with two runs in the first inning, but it really exploded for six runs in the fourth through sixth innings. Brant Blaylock had a team-high three hits and four RBI, and even he was surprised to see Powell come back and pitch the complete game.
“They had a really good approach in the first inning, and kind of pessimistically, I thought they would stick to it,” Blaylock said. “He did a really good job of keeping them off-balanced the rest of night, so all the credit to him. He did great.”
Three of Blaylock’s four RBI came with two outs, and it all started in the first inning. He smacked a single to center to plate two runs and cut the Marshall lead to 3-2. Gabe Montenegro tied the game with an RBI groundout in the fourth, then Blaylock picked up his third RBI in the fifth to give the Golden Eagles the lead for good, 4-3.
His final RBI came in the sixth, a double to right field, to give Southern Miss a commanding 8-3 advantage.
Friday’s three-hit night was a welcoming sight for Blaylock. Since the Game 2 win over Old Dominion on March 23, he had only one hit in five games.
“The first couple of (hitless games), you kind of don’t really think about it, but I got to a point where I was aware of the struggle I was going through,” Blaylock said. “I kind of flushed it this week, reset during (batting practice), and came out with a better approach and more intensity. It paid off.”
He’ll say he’s not superstitious, but he was ready to change his walk-up song to try and fix his woes. His current walk-up song is “Sleeping on the Blacktop” by Colter Wall, but he was ready to change to the new viral sensation “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X.
“I did decide before the game that I was going to change it, but I think I might hold off,” he said. “I’ll make sure I’ll mention it to somebody to hold that off. That was the plan, but I swung it a lot better tonight, so I guess I’ll hold on to it. I’m not superstitious, but I’m a little stitious.”