Mississippi State’s loss has turned into a major gain for the Southern Miss baseball program.
The 2018 campaign is only two games old, but Luke Reynolds is already making an impact in the lineup at USM and he’s doing it against some of his former Bulldog teammates.
Reynolds played one season at Mississippi State in 2015, but left just prior to the 2016 campaign and transferred to USM.
On Saturday, Reynolds ripped a solo home run well over the right field fence and finished 2-for-3 at the plate as USM earned the series win with a 7-4 victory over Mississippi State.
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The third baseman said Saturday that the series victory is feeling “sweet” and he admitted that revenge has come to mind this weekend.
“We just made it even sweeter,” he said. “But there’s no hard feelings with Mississippi State. It’s just fun competing against them and kind of getting back at them a little bit.”
Through two games, Reynolds is 4-of-7 at the plate with five runs scored, a homer and four RBIs.
“He’s a tremendous addition to our program,” USM hitting coach Chad Caillet said. “Losing two key pieces in Taylor Braley and Dylan Burdeaux last year, I really feel like he’s come in and held that down for at least the time being.”
After starting his college career at Hinds Community College, the left-handed hitting Reynolds is at his third school in four years. He turns 23 on March 20, but the Forest native is still enjoying the college experience in Hattiesburg.
No USM player has been more emotional over the first two games of the series than Reynolds, flashing a wide grin and cheering on his teammates.
“God is good because it’s been a long two-year journey,” Reynolds said. “I never expected to be here in Hattiesburg and I’m so blessed. The Pete and these fans and this team are special. I have enjoyed it thoroughly.”
After Reynolds led Mississippi State in batting average against SEC competition at .370 in 2015, it seemed likely that he’d have some role to play for the Bulldogs the next year.
Entering the 2016 campaign, it became obvious to Reynolds that head coach John Cohen, who is now the MSU athletic director, wasn’t going to give him the at-bats he’d hoped for. He left not long before the season began and made the move to USM.
“I felt like it was the right move for my future and my career and I feel like I made the right decision for sure,” Reynolds said. “I love Southern.”
Saturday’s second-inning home run was a special moment for Reynolds.
“Running around the bases, I just soaked it in and it felt good,” he said. “I enjoyed that a lot.”
Reynolds, who sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, will benefit this season from having star sophomore Matt Wallner batting behind him at cleanup. After going 1-for-4 in the opener, Wallner bounced back with a 3-for-4 outing on Saturday.
“I’m just glad he’s on our team,” Wallner said of Reynolds. “He’s a great baseball player and an even better dude. He’s an awesome guy to have in the clubhouse.
“It’s so fun watching him hit. He can be down 0-2 with a curve ball and he’s hitting it up the middle. He’s a really mature hitter and a good hitter to all fields. He’s so fun to hit behind.”
Win in relief
Junior right-hander Jarod Wright made a strong debut out of the bullpen for USM (2-0) on Saturday, giving up one run on four hits in 3 2/3 innings to pick up the victory. He struck out one and walked none.
Junior lefty Stevie Powers proved up to the task in Saturday’s start for USM, giving up two runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings.
Mississippi State (0-2) managed 12 hits, but could never quite get a rally going after USM jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the second inning. MSU first baseman Josh Hatcher had his second consecutive three-hit effort to start the season, going 3-for-4 with two runs batted in.
Redshirt sophomore left-hander Ethan Small (0-1) took the loss for MSU, giving up two runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out three and walked one.
“Ethan was better his third and fourth inning than he was in his first and second inning today and those were the first two innings he’s been on the mound in almost two full years after Tommy John surgery,” MSU coach Andy Cannizaro said. “He’s a guy that’s got really good stuff, feel for three pitches. In the third and fourth inning, he was getting the ball down in the zone. This is a big, physical team so you’ve got to work the bottom half to get them out.”
Reynolds and Wallner were the only Golden Eagles with multiple hits.