In a 6-1 start to the season, no win has been bigger for the Southern Miss baseball team than the 18-2 shellacking of Evansville on Sunday.
Sure, the hits 18 hits were nice. But the performance of freshman right-hander Cody Carroll was the most important development of the day for the Golden Eagles.
Carroll struggled in the first start of his career on Feb. 19, giving up six earned runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings in an 8-7 win over Northeastern.
On Sunday, Carroll gave one run on six hits in 4 2/3 innings. He didn't pick up the decision, but he struck out four and walked none.
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One great sign for Carroll is that he has yet to walk a batter in 7 1/3 innings.
USM badly needs Carroll to make a quick adjustment to the Sunday starter's role. Junior right-hander Hayden Roberts (0-0, 5.79) should eventually settle in well as the Friday night starter and Kirk McCarty (2-0, 1.46) again looks like an all-conference performer on Saturday.
If Carroll builds on Sunday's performance, USM will be in good shape with its weekend rotation.
Junior right-hander Taylor Braley, who is off to another hot start at the plate with a .440 batting average, will get another shot as the mid-week starter when USM hosts Tulane at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Braley allowed five runs on six hits in 2 innings in a 12-5 loss at Alabama last week.
ULL series looms large
The Southern Miss non-conference baseball schedule isn't stacked with highly-rated opponents on weekends and that's what makes this week's series at Louisiana-Lafayette all the more important.
If USM is to contend for a NCAA regional host site, a series victory at ULL, a Sun Belt power, may be a necessity.
Series sweeps over Northeastern and Evansville will do little to sway the selection committee. The final non-conference weekend series against Xavier (4-4) is a respectable match-up, but it shouldn't be much of an RPI boost.
USM will have to earn the right to host an NCAA regional by rolling through conference play and the Eagles have a stiff slate in C-USA play this season with weekend trips to Rice and Louisiana Tech.
Early season RPI rankings are generally meaningless, but the Golden Eagles were ranked No. 77 by WarrenNolan.com headed into Wednesday night's game against Tulane.
A look around C-USA
Several baseball teams in Conference USA are off to strong starts in the 2017 campaign.
Louisiana Tech (7-0) is the only undefeated team remaining in the conference following a respectable three-game sweep at Texas-Arlington last weekend. The Bulldogs will face their biggest test yet when they host Arkansas for a two-game mid-week series on Tuesday and Wednesday.
With Wichita State, Mississippi State and Arkansas State coming up over the next two weeks, La. Tech should be battle tested headed into the C-USA opening series against Southern Miss on March 17-19 in Ruston, La.
Charlotte (6-2) has weekend series victories over West Virginia and Rider. We'll find out much more about the 49ers when they travel to East Carolina for a three-game series on March 10-12.
Rice is only 3-5, but the Owls have played a difficult non-conference schedule as usual. TCU, Pepperdine and Stanford are among their opponents before C-USA play starts.
With only the top eight teams advancing to the C-USA Tournament at MGM Park in Biloxi on May 24-28, there's always little room for error in league play.
Who: Southern Miss vs. Tulane
When: 6 p.m., Wednesday
Where: Pete Taylor Park, Hattiesburg
Radio: WPMO 1580 AM