PEARL — Southern Miss’s newly nationally ranked baseball Golden Eagles ended one bad streak and extended a really good one Tuesday night at Trustmark Park.
Taylor Braley, a junior right-hander, gave the Golden Eagles seven strong innings on the mound and also provided a run-scoring double to help his team win its eighth straight game, 7-5.
Perhaps just as importantly, it ended a four-game winning streak for State over USM. The Bulldogs had won five of the last six meetings between the two in-state rivals.
A seemingly evenly split crowd of 5,198 watched USM take an early 7-1 lead through three innings and then fight off a State rally at the end.
USM freshman right-hander Matt Wallner, all 6 feet 5 inches and 228 pounds, is going to help stop a lot of rallies in his career. Wallner, who turned 19 in December, retired the only three batters he faced on 10 pitches in the ninth inning, hitting 97 mph on his last fast ball.
Facing the top of the Bulldog order, Wallner got Brent Rooker to pop out and Ryan Gridley to ground out, and he then struck out Elijah MacNamee. Wallner followed that 97 mph fast ball for the second strike with a wicked slider at the knees that rendered MacNamee helpless.
Wallner, who afterward said it was the largest crowd he has ever pitched before, picked up his second save. He has won his only two decisions and has now pitched 10.2 scoreless innings of college baseball, giving up only three hits and striking out 12.
“He just throws strikes, and it gets up there really, really fast,” USM coach Scott Berry of his freshman star from Minnesota, who doubles as a slugging center fielder. “He just has so much presence out there.”
USM plated four first inning runs off Bulldog starter and loser Denver McQuary. Braley helped himself with a line drive double over the center fielder’s head, which drove home the first USM run.
After State scored once in the third, USM added three more in the bottom of the inning. Dylan Burdeaux’s two-run double was the big hit.
Trailing 7-2 headed into the eighth inning, State scored three times and brought the lead runner to the plate.
“I was proud of the fight in our guys against a really good team,” said State coach Andy Cannizaro, whose injury-riddled Bulldogs dropped to 12-10. “We have to keep getting in fights like this to learn how to win them.”
Braley said he did not have his best stuff. “My fastball just wasn’t moving and I wasn’t locating my pitches as well as I’ve been doing,” he said.
“Give Taylor a lot of credit for battling, he’s just such a competitor,” Berry said.
Southern Miss, 17-4 and ranked No. 25 by Collegiate Baseball, now have their longest winning streak since they won 13 straight to end the 2015 regular season. They play a weekend home conference series against Marshall beginning Friday. State will host Tennessee this weekend.
Mississippi State’s Jake Mangum, the SEC’s leading hitter and the C Spire Ferriss Trophy winner as a freshman last year, did not make the trip for State. Coach Andy Cannizaro suspended Mangum for a violation of team rules.
“I expect him back in the lineup, leading off, Friday night,” Cannizaro said.
Coming Wednesday: Rick Cleveland takes a closer look at USM freshman Matt Wallner.