Pitching Staff Continues Impressive Start in Shutout

James McMahon starts for USM against Mississippi State on Tuesday, only allowing two hits, one walk and no runs. The Eagles shut out the Bulldogs in a 3-0 victory. – Courtesy photo/Joe Harper

Southern Miss snapped a six-game losing streak to Mississippi State Tuesday, shutting out the Bulldogs in a 3-0 victory at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Mississippi.

Although the game was played at a neutral site, it was considered a home game for the Golden Eagles.

James McMahon got the start for USM, but only pitched 3.2 innings in order to save his arm for his scheduled Sunday start. USM manager Scott Berry wanted McMahon to get work in after his spot in the rotation was skipped over in the Louisiana Tech series as a result of the finale being cancelled.

Despite pitching on 10 days rest, McMahon showed no signs of rust as he only allowed two hits, one walk and no runs. Berry turned to relievers Cody Livingston and Jake Winston for long relief and was rewarded with four more innings of shutout baseball.

The game was very much a pitchers’ duel as neither team could muster any offense in the early going. It took until the bottom of the sixth inning before the first run was scored.

After Connor Barron and Daniel Keating popped and grounded out, respectively, to start the inning, Taylor Braley continued his recent offensive tear with a single to left field.

Designated hitter Matt Durst followed with a triple to right field off a 1-0 offering from Mississippi State starter Lucas Laster to score Braley from first base. Durst was able to keep his hands inside the ball and drove the outside pitch the opposite way. Tim Lynch kept the two-out rally going with an RBI double to expand the lead to 2-0. Dylan Burdeaux lined out to end the inning, but the damage was done, especially the way the Golden Eagle pitching staff was throwing.

The Golden Eagle offense started another two-out rally in the seventh as Nick Dawson got things going with a single up the middle. Barron followed with a single of his own to right field, advancing Dawson to second. Then Keating singled between the shortstop and third baseman to score Dawson from second as an insurance run.

That insurance run was plenty enough for USM as Ryan Milton shut the door in the ninth to pick up his fifth save of the season and preserve the shutout.

Both sides pitched really well,” said manager Scott Berry. “But our guys got out of the gate well with (James McMahon) and they all pitched really well. Three double plays turned in the game. We really controlled anything on the bases that they had.”

Pitching was expected to be a weakness for the Golden Eagles after losing so many quality arms from a year ago, but the pitching staff has been an incredible strength as they boast a team ERA of 2.18.

That number is inflated a bit by the inordinate amount of 24 unearned runs the Golden Eagles have given up in just 23 games so far. However, if the pitching staff continues to pitch the way they have been, USM has a chance to go far this season, regardless if the team ERA comes back to earth a little bit as the season progresses.

Another revelation for the Golden Eagles has been the hot bat of Braley, who is hitting .404 on the season with a 1.013 OPS. Chase Scott was expected to be the everyday third baseman this season, but since Berry decided to give Braley a shot, the offense has taken off.

It is quite amazing what Braley has been able to do as a true freshman. Rarely does a true freshman earn a starting job, but not only has the former Oak Grove High School standout become a starter, he has become the team’s three-hole hitter and most consistent bat in the middle of the lineup.

Berry envisioned Braley to mainly help out of the bullpen before the season, but he has found a gem. Even if Braley cools off at the plate some, he has established himself as the future of Southern Miss baseball.

The Golden Eagles (14-8-1, 3-2 Conference USA) have a much-awaited road trip this weekend as they travel to Houston, Texas, to take on Rice (17-9, 7-2).

Many Golden Eagle players said before the season that the conference series they were most looking forward to was against Rice, as the two teams have jockeyed for the top spot in the conference over the past few seasons.

First pitch of the series will be Friday night at 6:30 p.m. at Reckling Park.