Southern Miss

Southern Miss baseball coach explains why his closer became his Friday night ace

Southern Miss coach Scott Berry will watch the first two games of the Mississippi State series from his office.
Southern Miss coach Scott Berry will watch the first two games of the Mississippi State series from his office. Sun Herald file

With a couple of pitchers not quite 100 percent healthy, the Southern Miss weekend rotation had a little different look than anticipated when it was announced on Thursday.

Junior right-hander Nick Sandlin, who has been a closer for his entire college career, will make the start for the Golden Eagles at 4 p.m. on Friday against Mississippi State.

USM head coach Scott Berry took the time Thursday to explain why the rotation is not quite what was anticipated.

Colt Smith, a senior right-hander, had long been expected to fit into a weekend role, but he won’t be available this weekend.

“We’ve got a couple of guys that are down at the moment, including Walker Powell,” Berry said. “He’s not quite ready to take the mound. Colt Smith, he’s on the shelf for a couple of weeks with shoulder tendinitis.”

The hope is that Powell, a redshirt sophomore right-hander, will eventually land in the rotation, but he is continuing to work his way back from Tommy John surgery after sitting out last year.

With Powell not quite ready and Smith resting his shoulder, Berry felt like Sandlin was his best option.

“I just feel like you have to have a sure fire Friday night guy,” Berry said. “With the departure of three guys from last year (Kirk McCarty, Taylor Braley and Hayden Roberts), all of a sudden we’re forced to develop a new one. You look at Sandlin and he’s your best pitcher that fits that bill.”

Junior lefty Stevie Powers will throw Saturday for USM and junior right-hander J.C. Keys will get the start on Sunday.

Berry said that sophomore outfielder/pitcher Matt Wallner is in good shape to fill the closer role after not seeing much time on the mound in the second half of the 2017 season due to a sore hip.

The decision to move Sandlin to the weekend rotation was helped by the performance of the bullpen during practice recently.

“I know there are no guarantees, even with the guys that are returning, but we feel like we’re at a point where we certainly trust our guys based on how they’ve responded to the situations and roles we’ve put them,” Berry said. “That’s how it all played out.”

Berry is suspended for the first two games of the series after being ejected in the final game of the Hattiesburg Regional for arguing with an umpire. He will watch the game from his office while assistant Chad Caillet will coach third base. Graduate assistant B.A. Vollmuth will work with hitters in the dugout and one of the USM pitchers will coach first base.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee

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