HATTIESBURG -- Southern Miss took over sole possession of first place in Conference USA with a 2-1 victory over the Rice Owls in a fabulously-pitched baseball game at Pete Taylor Park on Friday night.
USM, ranked 19th by Collegiate Baseball, improved to 28-11 overall and 13-3 in Conference USA. Rice, ranked 13th in the nation by Baseball America, fell to 24-12 and 12-4.
Cord Cockrell of USM and John Duplantier of Rice were locked in a pitchers' duel for much of the game. Then relievers Luke Lowery, Jake Winston, Cody Livingston and Nick Sandlin came in for the Golden Eagles and did their thing and it, too, was a thing of beauty.
Each team got six hits. The Eagles went up 1-0 in the first inning, 2-0 in the fourth, then Rice scored one in the fifth. Other than that, pitchers dominated.
"That was a good baseball game," Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. "Pitching was the story, both sides."
Of his starting pitcher, Berry said, "Cord is Cord, he's going to go out and have a good mix of pitches. He's going to throw strikes, he's going to keep his defense in the game. He's a guy that wants the ball."
Cockrell struck out six and walked none. Lowery got USM out of a jam in the sixth inning, and was followed by Winston, Livingston and finally Nick Sandlin, who came to the mound in the ninth inning after a one-out triple by Rice's Tristan Gray. Sandlin got an infield fly out and then ended the game by inducing a fly ball to left field.
"It was beautiful," USM catcher Chuckie Robinson said about his pitchers. "It was a pleasure to catch Cord today. He was nibbling on the corners. Sandlin did a great job of closing it out, Winston did a great job of sinking the ball, Luke Lowery came in in a big spot and did what he had to do, so as a whole they did what they had to do as a staff. It was a beautiful ballgame all-around."
Robinson did his thing, too, driving in the winning run. USM scored first in the first inning when Jake Sandlin and Tim Lynch hit back-to-back doubles. In the fourth, Chase Scott walked for USM, went to second on a passed ball and scored on Robinson's single into center field off a curveball by Duplantier, who struck out 10 in 7.0 innings pitched.
Rice got one run back in the fifth when Connor Tekyl and Andrew Dunlap hit back-to-back doubles, but that ended the scoring.
Dylan Burdeaux and Jake Sandlin each had two hits for the Eagles. Ford Proctor had two for the Owls.
But the first game of the series belonged to the pitchers.
"Got to win," Cockrell said about his mindset going into the game. "Got to do everything I can to help the team win.
"My approach was just to go in and keep the ball down and change speeds like I've been doing all year," said Cockrell, who improved to 7-0. "It worked out for me early in the game so I kept that approach. I felt really good. I was putting the ball where I wanted when I wanted. (The close game) kept me focused."
The second game of the three-game C-USA series will be at 4 p.m. today. The game has been designated Corky Palmer Day, in honor of the former Southern Miss coach to guided the Golden Eagles to the College World Series in 2009.