HATTIESBURG-- Kirk McCarty allowed one hit in 6 2/3 scoreless innings and catcher Chuckie Robinson continued his torrid pace at the plate as Southern Miss pocketed a 3-0 Conference USA victory Saturday over WKU at Pete Taylor Park.
With the win, No. 18 Southern Miss (33-14, 17-6 C-USA) sewed up its sixth conference series of the season and will do no worse than remain in a first-place tie. Co-leader Rice played at FIU Saturday evening.
McCarty (5-0) matched a career-high with nine strikeouts for the third time this season and walked only one. In his last three outings, McCarty has allowed just two earned runs, posting a 0.70 earned run average over 25 2/3 innings.
"He was outstanding," Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. "Even with a couple errors on the board, he was able to pitch around those. He had a great mix. He had command of all four pitches (Saturday) and really was in the driver's seat from the first pitch to the last."
Nick Sandlin picked up his ninth save, setting WKU (24-23, 10-13) in order in the ninth inning to preserve the Golden Eagles' third shutout of the season. The Hilltoppers put only three baserunners in scoring position.
Robinson saw a streak of 10 hits in 10 consecutive at-bats come to an end when he flew out in his first appearance against WKU right-hander Josh Bartley (4-4).
But Robinson put the Golden Eagles on the board in the fourth inning with a run-scoring single to right field that scored first baseman Tim Lynch. Third baseman Tracy Hadley followed with a single under the glove of WKU third baseman Danny Hudzina, scoring second baseman Chase Scott to give the Golden Eagles a 2-0 lead.
In his next at-bat in the top of the sixth, Robinson smashed his fifth home run of the season and second in the series to close out the scoring.
In two games against WKU pitching, Robinson has gone 7-for-9 with two home runs and nine RBIs. He has 12 hits in his last 14 at-bats with 13 RBIs in that stretch.
"This summer, I had a stretch that was similar, but besides that, I really can't remember any like this," said Robinson, who also threw out a runner Saturday attempting to steal.
The teams conclude the three-game set at 1 p.m. Sunday.Freshman right-hander Walker Powell (3-2, 3.22 ERA) will make his debut as a weekend starter for the Golden Eagles.
"It'll be good for him going (Sunday), knowing we've already got a series win," McCarty said. "Not that it will make a difference in what he does, but he knows that we've got the series won, so he can just go out there and we'll see what he can do."
WKU is expected to start junior left-hander Ryan Thurston (3-3, 3.42), who was named C-USA Pitcher of the Week after going 10 shutout innings with a career-high 11 strikeouts against FlU in a game the Hilltoppers eventually won 3-2 in 12 innings.