The Southern Miss baseball program has long relied on Hattiesburg-area high schools for some of its top players. And this year’s squad has an even bigger than average presence of Hub City standouts, with four hailing from Oak Grove.
When sophomore right-hander J.C. Keys takes the mound in the second game of a 4 p.m. doubleheader Friday to start a Conference USA series against Marshall, he will be the third consecutive Oak Grove standout to be the starting pitcher for USM.
For the third straight weekend, USM (17-4, 3-0) will rely on two Oak Grove products in its weekend rotation. Junior left-hander Kirk McCarty (3-2, 3.26) is expected to start Friday’s series opener.
Hayden Roberts, a junior right-hander from Irvington, Alabama, will be the only pitcher this week not from Oak Grove to start a game for the Golden Eagles. He is set to start the third game of the series, which will either be at 2 p.m. Saturday or 11 a.m. Sunday, depending on the weather.
With wet weather expected Saturday, USM decided to reschedule the weekend’s series, forcing the Friday doubleheader and the uncertainty for the third game.
Former Oak Grove star Taylor Braley (2-0, 4.43) picked up the 7-5 win over Mississippi State in a seven-inning outing Tuesday. The third baseman is fast becoming one of college baseball’s better two-way threats with a batting average of .365, six homers and 23 RBIs.
Keys will be making his third start of the season Friday and USM head coach Scott Berry likes what he’s seen out of the sophomore.
“When we signed him, we certainly envisioned him with a future as a starter,” Berry said. “As a freshman, he was a work-in-progress type deal. Now, he’s had a year of summer league under his belt in Texas.”
Another Oak Grove product, redshirt freshman infielder Matthew Guidry, is gradually seeing more time in the lineup. He was the designated hitter in Sunday’s 8-5 win over Louisiana Tech, going 1-for-4 with a solo home run. He is batting .429 with a homer and seven RBIs in 14 plate appearances this year.
Petal native Calder Mikell, who is in his first season after playing one year at Jones County Junior College, is another Hattiesburg-area native on the USM pitching staff. The sophomore right-hander has a 9.00 ERA in five appearances this year.
USM enters the weekend in a three-way tie for first place along with Old Dominion (17-4, 3-0) and Florida Atlantic (14-6-1, 3-0). Charlotte, UAB and Marshall are all tied for fourth place with 2-1 marks.
Tennessee vs. Mississippi State
Former East Central star Konnor Pilkington (2-3, 2.12) is the only starting pitcher who is assured a start for Mississippi State this weekend. He will look to end MSU’s four-game losing streak when he starts at 6:30 p.m. against Tennessee (13-5, 0-3) in Starkville. The Saturday and Sunday starting assignments are to be determined.
Sophomore outfielder Jake Mangum will be back in the lineup for MSU on Friday after sitting out Tuesday’s loss to USM. He was suspended because of an unspecified violation of team rules.
MSU coach Andy Cannizaro announced Thursday that sophomore right-hander Ryan Cyr has been dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules.
Tennessee will start senior right-hander Hunter Martin (3-2, 3.49) on Friday and freshman right-hander Zach Linginfelter (0-1, 3.74) on Saturday. Sunday is TBD.
Ole Miss vs. Kentucky
The Rebels get the early start on the weekend with Thursday’s game in Lexington, Kentucky, with sophomore right-hander James McCarthur getting the chance to be the first starter of the series. Ole Miss (14-7, 2-1) will follow with left-hander David Parkinson (4-1, 2.03) in Friday’s game. Saturday’s starter is to be determined.
Kentucky has all three starters set for the weekend – sophomore right-hander Sean Hjelle (3-1, 4.99), junior left-hander Zach Logue (3-1, 2.43) and sophomore righty Justin Lewis (3-1, 3.07).
Kentucky is 16-6 overall and 3-0 in conference play after getting the impressive sweep at Texas A&M last week.
Marshall at Southern Miss — 4 p.m. Friday (doubleheader); 2 p.m. Saturday
Ole Miss at Kentucky — 6 p.m. Thursday; 5:30 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. Saturday
Tennessee at Mississippi State — 6:30 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 1:30 p.m. Sunday