TALLAHASEE, Fla. - After suffering a baffling sweep at Florida International in the final week of the regular season, everything is suddenly going right for the Southern Miss baseball team.
The Golden Eagles (41-18) have won five straight after whipping South Alabama 14-2 Friday in the opener of the NCAA Regional at Florida State's Dick Howser Stadium.
During the five-game run, USM has won a pair of games by the score of 3-2 and taken the three other contests by a combined score of 40-10. The hits have been there when needed and a pitching staff thinned by injuries has managed to come through in the clutch over and over.
There was no single star for the Eagles on Friday. It was a matter of everybody being involved in a 16-hit effort.
Southern Miss had one of the better lineups in Conference USA all season, but it suffered a blow when sophomore third baseman Taylor Braley went down with a season-ending knee injury in early April.
A pair of seniors, Jake Sandlin and Tim Lynch, have been consistent all season and junior Dylan Burdeaux has produced out of the leadoff spot.
USM is suddenly putting up video game numbers again and it's all about the emergence of younger players like freshman left fielder Hunter Slater and sophomore designated hitter Daniel Keating.
Keating was named the Conference USA Tournament MVP last week despite only getting in the lineup as a designated hitter. After knocking in six runs in the C-USA Tournament, he continued his hot hitting Friday with a 3-for-5 effort.
Ever since Keating found a consistent home in the middle of the lineup, he's made the Eagles a more complete team at the plate.
"It's certainly created a balance from top to bottom," Berry said of Keating's recent performance at the plate. "There's not really any quiet in that storm when you're going through it. Not only with his bat, but he can really run. He can apply pressure on you as well."
Pascagoula native Tracy Hadley is also picking up his play in ever aspect. He went 2-for-4 Friday with two runs scored and an RBI while playing a solid third base.
After miraculously dodging a tag at second base for a double in Sunday's 3-2 win over Rice in the C-USA title game, he again somehow found a way around the tag when he stole second in the fourth inning on Friday.
"He's very athletic," Berry said. "He told me he beat the throw, but his foot came off the bag. He was able to reach out and get the bag. He's good, athletic young man."
On the mound, Kirk McCarty had likely his best outing of the season Friday. South Alabama (40-21) didn't get a hit off the left-hander until there were two outs in the bottom of the sixth.
For USM to keep rolling in Tallahassee, it will need more pitching on par with what McCarty did Friday.
Berry wasn't ready Friday to announce a starter for Saturday's game, but it seems likely that freshman right-hander Walker Powell (4-3, 3.46) will get the ball first. Freshman left-hander Stevie Powers (1-1, 3.69) and junior right-hander Hayden Roberts (0-0, 5.69) could also be options for Berry.
Senior right-hander Cord Cockrell (7-1, 3.97) is likely to pitch at some point this weekend, but he may be limited to an inning or two due to lingering shoulder soreness.
If the last five games are any indication, someone will step up on the pitcher's mound.