The Southern Miss baseball team continued its impressive Conference USA slate with a sweep of Western Kentucky last weekend, but it had to overcome an injury to Friday night ace Cord Cockrell to do so.
USM coach Scott Berry was already doing some shuffling in the weekend pitching rotation last week after Nick Johnson was moved back to the bullpen and Kirk McCarty was pushed up to the Saturday start. There should be plenty more where that came from in USM's crucial three-game conference series against Louisiana Tech this weekend. USM (34-14, 8-6) hosts the Bulldogs in game one at 6 p.m. on Friday in Hattiesburg.
Cockrell is out indefinitely with a sore shoulder, but Berry is holding out hope that he may be able to contribute in the C-USA Tournament or in the postseason.
With Cockrell's future uncertain, that means someone will have to step up in the Friday night role.
McCarty (5-0, 2.81) has been USM's top starter in conference play with a 4-0 mark and 2.35 ERA in eight starts. The sophomore lefty has 54 strikeouts versus just nine walks against C-USA competition.
“He's been real consistent the last four outings. He has been superb,” Berry said Wednesday.
Berry plans to make a decision on his new weekend rotation on Thursday morning. While Cockrell won't be among the candidates, he does have decent options.
Freshman right-hander Walker Powell (3-2, 3.67) may get another chance after proving adequate in his first start on the college level in Sunday's 13-4 win over WKU. He gave up three earned runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings.
“I thought given the circumstances with it being his first start as a freshman, he did pretty well,” Berry said. “He was a little up in the zone and WKU took some good swings and barreled up some balls. I think asking him to do that in that situation with a depleted bullpen, he stepped up there.”
Berry could also go to a pair of seniors who have weekend starting experience, Nick Johnson and Jake Winston. Freshman left-hander Stevie Powers, who has looked good at times in mid-week contests, could also be an option.
However, Berry likes how Winston (6-0, 4.91) and Johnson (2-1, 4-53) have looked out of the bullpen.
“What they have on their side is starting experience,” Berry said. “They are seniors. I'm not afraid to put them in that (starting) role.”
USM will face a Louisiana Tech team that finished in last in 2015 and missed out on the conference tournament. The Bulldogs are 32-14 and 15-9 in conference play this season.
“Oh man, their numbers are really good,” Berry said. “They're 8-2 in the last 10 games (headed into Wednesday's game vs. Northwestern State). (Coach Greg Goff) has got them playing good. They really responded this year and are playing well.”