Scott Copeland, the former Southern Miss ace and onetime big leaguer, is still taking the mound every fifth day for the New Orleans Baby Cakes, Miami’s Triple-A affiliate. The 6-foot-3 right-hander, 29, worked 7 2/3 innings on Thursday night, yielding just two runs with eight strikeouts but getting no decision. He is 8-10 with a 5.31 ERA, a number inflated by a couple of bad outings. Copeland was a horse at USM in 2010, winning his first 11 decisions and earning Conference USA Tournament MVP honors. Drafted by Baltimore in the 21st round in 2010, he was released in 2012 and signed with Toronto. He spent parts of five seasons in the Blue Jays’ system and got his cup of coffee in the big leagues – with several refills, actually – for the Jays in 2015. He was up and down from Triple-A Buffalo to Toronto multiple times that season and managed to get into five MLB games, going 1-1, 6.46. He went to Korea for a stint in 2016, returned and re-signed with Toronto. He became a free agent again last off-season and signed a minor league deal with the Marlins. Copeland has a career minor league ledger of 60-62, 4.18 over 174 games, 57 of those in Triple-A, where you can smell the big league coffee but not quite taste it.
In baseball, good things come to those who … pitch. And Southern Miss can pitch. The Golden Eagles (28-16-1, 13-10 C-USA) have a staff ERA of 3.03, which ranks among the top 20 in the nation. They’ve got seven shutouts, tied for fifth-most in NCAA Division I. They are coming off a three-game home sweep of Marshall in which they limited the Thundering Herd to two runs. None of the Eagles’ three starters allowed a run. Cody Carroll, the league pitcher of the week, threw a three-hitter. James McMahon, now 9-1 with a 1.88 ERA, worked six scoreless innings, and Kirk McCarty (4-1, 2.58) was unscathed over 7 2/3. Tim Lynch has swung a big stick (.331, nine homers, 30 RBIs) and three other regulars are over .300. But it’s USM’s pitching that impresses the most, especially in this season of the livelier ball. At one point during the Marshall series, the staff’s streak of consecutive innings without allowing an earned run reached 39. “I’ve been (coaching) 31 years, so I’m not going to say I haven’t (seen such a streak),” coach Scott Berry told the Hattiesburg American. “But that’s a pretty good string, I know that.” Light-hitting Charlotte comes to Hattiesburg this weekend for a conference series at Taylor Park, where USM is 16-7 — and where the C-USA Tournament will be held May 20-24. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first USM team to make the NCAA Tournament field. That Hill Denson-coached club included Damon Pollard, Scotty Jurich, Todd Nace, Kerry Valrie, Greg Cole and Kenny Graves, all of whom were among the group in town for a reunion over the weekend. It would be a fitting tribute if the current club also earned a regional bid. That pitching certainly gives them hope.