When the threat of lightning sent Friday afternoon's game into a delay prior to the start of the third inning, Stevie Powers grew concerned that his promising start would come to a quick end.
It was 20 days prior when the Southern Miss left-hander was removed from a game after just two innings at UAB due to a forearm strain.
“It was really frustrating,” Powers said. “That's the type of the injury where it can tighten up on you. You have to stay on top of it. I was worried about that.”
Powers did everything he could to stay loose during the delay of 64 minutes. He placed heat on his arm and tossed with a teammate in the tunnel underneath the stadium.
“I just kept it going and did a good job of staying on top of it,” he said.
Powers' efforts during the delay paid off for him and his teammates as he delivered seven strong innings to lead the Golden Eagles to a 5-3 victory over UTSA at MGM Park.
After taking the long route to the C-USA title game in 2017, the Golden Eagles are on track for a much easier path to Sunday. USM is one victory away from playing in Sunday's 1 p.m. title game.
The Golden Eagles (41-15) will play the winner of Saturday's 9 a.m. game between Charlotte and UTSA at 4 p.m. Saturday in a semifinal contest. Whoever USM plays will have to beat the Eagles twice to advance.
Charlotte and UTSA were supposed to play the late game on Saturday, but wet weather forced a postponement.
Powers, who retired the first 10 batters of the game, gave up two runs on four hits on 85 pitches. He struck out five and didn't walk a single batter, keeping his walk total at 10 for the season.
“He was obviously very anxious to get back on the mound. He thought he was going to start Game 1,” USM head coach Scott Berry said. “There's a lot of emotion in his mind that goes into it. He's a very mature young man, a guy that we see mature as he's been in the program. A lot of things didn't go in his favor, but he was able to control what he can control. He gutted it out.”
The heart of the lineup didn't disappoint for the Golden Eagles with Luke Reynolds, Matt Wallner and Hunter Slater finishing 6 of 13 with four runs scored and three RBIs.
Wallner hit his 14th home run of the season in the third inning when he sent a high drive that landed just below the scoreboard in right field to give the Golden Eagles a 3-0 lead.
“It was a fastball pretty much right in the middle of the plate,” Wallner said. “If I miss that one, I'm in trouble. It's good to get one of those every once in a while because fastballs seem a little few and far between for me.”
Slater led the Golden Eagles in hits, finishing 3 of 4 with one run scored.
USM started hot at the plate in the first inning with four consecutive two-out hits, including RBI singles from Waller and Gulfport product Daniel Keating.
Reynolds' biggest moment of the game came in the field in the bottom of the ninth when UTSA put runners on first and second with one out against USM reliever Trent Driver.
Josh Lamb sent a grounder toward third where Reynolds fielded the ball cleanly and reached back to tag Dylan Rock as he ran behind him. Reynolds then made the perfect toss to first to retire Lamb for the game-ending double play.
“That's your conference player of the year,” Berry said.
Driver allowed one run on four hits in two innings to pick up his first career save.
FAU eliminated Louisiana Tech 8-6 in the final game on Friday.
Charlotte vs. UTSA, 9 a.m.
Rice vs. Florida Atlantic, 12:30 p.m.
Southern Miss vs. Game 10 winner, 4 p.m.
Game 13 (if necessary)
Same teams as Game 11, 7:30p
Game 14 (if necessary)
Same teams as Game 12, TBA
Championship Game (CBS Sports Network)
TBD vs. TBD, 1 p.m.