HATTIESBURG -- Looking for a Sunday pitcher? Just give the ball to a freshman. Or maybe give it to three of them.
That's what Southern Miss baseball coach Scott Berry did Sunday, and the Golden Eagles walked away with a 2-0 victory, a win in the series over Louisiana Tech and sole possession of first place in Conference USA.
"I'm real proud of the way those young men went out on a tough Conference USA weekend with what was riding on the line, a chance to win the series, first place with Rice," USM coach Scott Berry said. "I thought Walker Powell handled that stage very, very well, as did Stevie Powers and, of course, (Nick) Sandlin, who got his 10th save. He's the guy you want to have the ball at the end of the game.
"It was a great team win against a very good Louisiana Tech team, 2-0 against a club that has good offensive numbers."
Powell, a 6-foot-7, 191-pound freshman from Fayetteville, Ark., went 5 1/3 innings, giving up only three hits and one walk while striking out four. Both the distance and strikeout number were season highs for Powell.
"We just go out there and try to throw strikes," Powell said. "Throw up zeroes and our offense has a chance to win."
Powers, a 6-foot, 184-pound freshman from Savannah, Ga., came to the mound in the fifth and backed by a great defensive play from shortstop Nick Dawson, kept the Bulldogs from scoring. Sophomore Hayden Roberts relieved Powers, but two consecutive walks brought Sandlin in. He set down the first five batters he faced before getting into trouble in the ninth due to a single and hit batter, but a groundout to second ended the game.
Louisiana Tech did not get a runner to third base all game long.
"It starts with Walker Powell," Sandlin said. "Eliminating a lot of those free passes Louisiana Tech relies on. They rely a lot on emotion, they kind of try to get hit by pitches at times, and Walker did a great job eliminating that and made them earn it today.
"Me and Stevie just kind of took care of it from there."
The Bulldogs (34-16, 16-11) won the series opener Friday night, but the Golden Eagles (36-15, 20-7) won Saturday and Sunday, paced by 16 straight scoreless innings by their pitching staff.
"We've got a couple guys hurt, but whoever they throw in there, we've got confidence in them," Powell said.
Tim Lynch, who drove in a USM run in the third inning Sunday -- Daniel Keating of Gulfport drove in the other with a single in the second inning -- put it even better.
"The pitching we got was phenomenal," Lynch said. "I don't think they scored a run since the third inning of (Saturday's) game so our pitching definitely picked us up."
Sunday's victory puts Southern Miss at 20-7 in Conference USA. Rice lost 10-3 to Florida Atlantic on Sunday in the continuation of Saturday's game, which had been postponed. Then in Sunday's second Rice-FAU game, the score was tied 4-4 in the fifth inning when bad weather forced its cancellation. So Rice is now 19-7.
Marshall is in third place in C-USA with a 19-8 mark and Florida Atlantic is fourth at 18-8.
USM had seven hits. Keating had the run-scoring single and a walk, and had five hits in the three-game series. USM third baseman Tracy Hadley of Pascagoula also singled.
The Golden Eagles will close out a seven-game home stand at 5 p.m. Tuesday against Louisiana Monroe.
USM will play its final C-USA series at FIU on Thursday, Friday and Saturday before hosting the Conference USA tournament May 25-29.