The baseball season improved considerably for Southern Miss’ Daniel Keating on Saturday.
Going into a doubleheader against Xavier at Pete Taylor Park, last year’s Conference USA tournament MVP was batting only .179.
But with a single and double in Saturday’s opening game, a 2-0 win, and with a single, double and home run — his first of the season — in the second game, a 10-0 victory, the season looks brighter for Keating, who is now batting .270.
“It’s just getting some bats and gaining some confidence,” the junior designated hitter/outfielder from Gulfport said. “There was nothing really wrong with my swing, it’s just been taking advantage of some fastballs. Just being confident up there, I think that was the biggest thing.“
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Keating wasn’t the only Golden Eagle standout of the day. Casey Maack belted two of the Eagles’ five home runs, all in the second game. Dylan Burdeaux hit his fourth of the season and Taylor Braley homered for the fifth time.
“I think we just relaxed and let the barrel do the work,” Keating said. “We looked a lot more confident out there all day.”
With two shutouts in one day, there obviously were several noteworthy performances on the mound.
Hayden Roberts pitched a masterpiece in the first game, allowing Xavier only two hits in 8 2/3 innings in the 2-0 victory. He struck out eight and walked only two.
Nick Sandlin came to the mound with two out in the ninth and struck out the only batter he faced for his first save of the season.
“(Roberts) had a really good mix of pitches,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “He located down in the zone, his breaking ball was very sharp. He showed that change-up, it looked like he subtracted some velo from that change-up to make it a little more deceptive off the fastball. Very good command.”
Hunter Slater got two hits in the opener to extend his streak to 14. He had a hit in USM’s first 14 games, but the streak ended in the second game.
Keating had a single and a double and Matt Wallner had two singles in the opener.
In Saturday’s second game, which gave the Golden Eagles a 2-1 win in the three-game weekend series, J.C. Keys started for the first time on the mound and gave up only three hits in 6.0 innings.
“We felt like it was a good opportunity for him to see how he would handle it, and he handled it very well,” Berry said.
Stevie Powers relieved Keys and pitched one inning, as did Austin Millet and Colt Smith.
“After giving up those two runs in the first two innings (Friday) night, you go 25 scoreless innings, I thought that was a major, major contribution from all those guys — starters, relievers, they all performed well,” Berry said.
Keating and Braley each belted solo home runs over the left-field fence for the Golden Eagles in the first inning of the second game. In the third inning, LeeMarcus Boyd singled and scored on Burdeaux’s homer, a blast to left-center field. Keating doubled and after a walk to Braley and scored on a double by Tracy Hadley.
Berry moved Keating up from fifth to second in the batting order for Saturday’s second game.
“When he’s hot, he swings it pretty well,” Berry said. “It was just a feeling on my part because he has been swinging it pretty good.”
Maack’s solo shot in the fourth gave Southern Miss a 6-0 lead and his two-run shot in the sixth made it 8-0.
After a couple of walks, Bryant Bowen drove in two runs in the seventh inning with a double to give Southern Miss a 10-0 lead.