Freshman Powell leads USM past La. Tech

Published 8:47 am Monday, May 16, 2016

HATTIESBURG — Southern Miss kept its tight grip on first place in Conference USA by putting Louisiana Tech on lockdown.

Walker Powell, Stevie Powers, Hayden Roberts and Nick Sandlin combined on a six-hit shutout Sunday as Southern Miss beat Louisiana Tech 2-0.

Southern Miss’ pitchers didn’t allow a run in the last 16 2/3 innings of the three-game series. Powell, a freshman making his second career start, went a season-high 5 1/3 innings and struck out four, while allowing just three hits and one walk to get the victory.

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“Real proud of the way those young men went out and competed on a tough conference weekend, particularly with everything that was riding on the line today,” said Southern Miss coach Scott Berry. “I thought Walker handled the stage very well, as did Stevie Powers and Sandlin coming in and getting his 10th save.”

Southern Miss (36-15, 20-7 Conference USA) won two out of three in the series to remain a half-game ahead of Rice (32-16, 19-7) for first place in C-USA. Rice lost 10-3 to Florida Atlantic on Sunday in the completion of a suspended game, and their regularly-scheduled game was rained out and will not be made up.

Each team has one regular-season series remaining, both of which begin Thursday. Southern Miss is on the road at Florida International, while Rice plays at Louisiana Tech (34-16, 16-11).

Powell has emerged late in the season as a viable third starter for the Golden Eagles. He got a no-decision in his first start last weekend against Western Kentucky, but was solid for 4 2/3 innings as USM won 13-4.

This Sunday, he was even better and got the Golden Eagles rolling toward another victory.

“We just go out there and try to throw strikes,” Powell said. “Throw up zeroes and our offense has a chance to win.”

Louisiana Tech’s Casey Sutton (6-1) also turned in a fine performance. The former Hinds Community College pitcher allowed two runs in 6 1/3 innings. He gave up seven hits and four walks, and struck out one.

Southern Miss touched him a couple of times early, however, and that was enough.

In the second inning, Hunter Slater led off with a double and scored on a base hit by Daniel Keating for USM’s first run. In the third inning, Nick Dawson walked and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Chase Scott to make it 2-0.

Powell and the USM bullpen made that stand up.

Powers got out of a minor jam in the sixth inning and gave way to Roberts, who got one out in the seventh before walking two batters. Sandlin took over for him and pitched the last 2 2/3 innings to bring it home for his 10th save of the season.

“It starts with Walker Powell,” Sandlin said. “Eliminating a lot of those free passes Louisiana Tech relies on. They rely a lot on emotion, they kind of try to get hit by pitches at times, and Walker did a great job eliminating that and made them earn it today. Me and Stevie just kind of took care of it from there.”

Chase Lunceford, one of five former Hinds players in Louisiana Tech’s starting lineup on Sunday, had two of his team’s six hits. Jonathan Washam went 1-for-4.