07 May

on this date

Brian Dozier, who had been a four-year star at Southern Miss, made his major league debut on May 7, 2012, just 10 short years ago, launching one of the most productive careers ever by a USM alum. In that first game, Dozier went 1-for-4 as Minnesota’s shortstop in a loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Target Field. Dozier played only seven full seasons in the big leagues but touched all the significant bases: He was a record-setter, an All-Star, a Gold Glove winner and a World Series champion. He batted .244 with 192 homers and 115 steals in his career. His 42 homers in 2016 set a record for American League second basemen. He homered in his first postseason at-bat and later won a ring with the 2019 Washington Nationals. He retired, somewhat surprisingly at age 33, prior to the 2021 season after barely playing (for the New York Mets) in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. Drafted by the Twins in the eighth round in 2009 as a shortstop, Dozier didn’t stick at that position once he reached the majors. The Twins moved him to second base, which he had not played since he was a kid, after his 2012 big league trial, which ended abruptly in August. As time would tell, it was a salient move. P.S. Continuing a USM/Twins theme, Matt Wallner had a five-hit, two-homer day on Friday for Wichita in the Texas League. The 6-foot-5 left-handed slugger, the 39th overall pick by Minnesota in the 2019 draft, is batting .243 with six homers and 19 RBIs in his first Double-A season. He was scuffling along at .073 with one homer on April 21, but has gone 14-for-29 since, including the explosion in Friday’s doubleheader.

26 Mar

expect a rock fight

Nineteen games into its season, Southern Miss still isn’t hitting. Pitching, on the front and back end of games, has carried the Golden Eagles to a 13-6 record and will be leaned on again this weekend in Hattiesburg in their C-USA opening series against Louisiana Tech. “We’ll hang our hat on our guys and what they’ve been able to accomplish to this point,” USM coach Scott Berry said in a video conference with media this week. Batting .208 as a team, USM faces a tough Tech pitching staff (3.27 ERA) led by No. 1 starter Jonathan Fincher (3-0, 1.50). The nationally ranked Bulldogs (14-5), coached by Mississippi native and former USM assistant Lane Burroughs, roll out three .300 hitters and are at .287 as a club. USM counters with a pitching staff that ranks among the nation’s best in ERA (2.91) and walks per nine innings (2.16), which Berry cites as a key stat. The starting pool of Hunter Stanley, Walker Powell, Ben Ethridge and Drew Boyd has been consistently effective, and closer Garrett Ramsey has been lights out. Taking over Stanley’s role from 2020, former Northwest Rankin High and Hinds Community College star Ramsey is seven-for-seven in save opps, has yet to allow a run in 7 2/3 innings and features a 14-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Runs may be at a premium at Taylor Park this weekend.

12 Jul

so far, so great

If there were questions about how Nick Sandlin’s stuff would play in pro ball, the former Southern Miss star has wasted little time providing answers. A second-round draft pick by Cleveland last month, Sandlin has made seven scoreless appearances, the last four for Lake County in the Class A Midwest League. His stuff certainly played in Peoria on Wednesday night, when the 5-foot-11 right-hander struck out the side, running his K total to eight in four innings for Lake County. He has allowed two hits and no walks in that stretch. He notched a save on Saturday, closing out a win for former USM teammate Kirk McCarty. Sandlin, as a starter, went 10-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 140 punchouts in 102 1/3 innings for the Golden Eagles in 2018. He won all kinds of awards. The previous two seasons, working as a closer, he posted 20 saves and 13 wins. Yet Sandlin’s size, velocity and funky delivery reportedly were concerns for pro scouts heading into the draft. The Indians took him with the 67th pick. One MLB Network analyst, lamenting the state of the Indians’ bullpen on the night of the draft, suggested Cleveland throw Sandlin directly into the mix. That wasn’t going to happen, of course, but he might not be too far away. It’s not unheard of for college pitchers to make the big leagues in their draft year. P.S. Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson (now in the St. Louis system) started and got the win – despite allowing a run in his one inning – for the Pacific Coast League in Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star Game. Ole Miss alum Bobby Wahl (Oakland) got the first out in the ninth for the PCL in its 12-7 win, and USM product Cody Carroll (New York Yankees) threw a clean inning for the International League team.

26 May

winging it

Every team needs an ace, and Southern Miss has one. One of the best, in fact. Nick Sandlin — C-USA pitcher of the year, Ferriss Trophy winner – has been terrific. The converted closer moved to 9-0 and trimmed his ERA to 1.13 with a four-hit, 12-strikeout performance against UAB in the C-USA Tournament opener on Thursday in Biloxi. But the Golden Eagles (41-15) will need more than one golden arm to make a run in the NCAA postseason (which could well start in an Oxford Regional). Do they have that kind of depth? They just might. The other pitchers don’t get the pub afforded Sandlin, but this is a team with a staff ERA of 3.58. Both Stevie Powers and Walker Powell, the other weekend starters, have won big games. Powers, a left-hander who last pitched on May 5 because of some arm issues, notched the win on Friday, yielding two runs in seven innings in a 5-3 victory against Texas-San Antonio. He joked about following Sandlin in the USM rotation. “It’s been a tough job all year for me,” he said in a school release. He’s been up to it, going 5-1 with a 3.28 ERA. Powell, typically the No. 3, is 7-3, 3.62, and will start today in the semifinal round of the tournament. In the bullpen, Cody Carroll (2.23), Keller Bradford (3.24), Mason Strickland (3.25) and Trent Driver (4.30) have been effective, and large-looming, hard-throwing Matt Wallner has six saves despite a 7.36 ERA in his 11 appearances. Sandlin certainly leads the way for this staff, but coach Scott Berry has more cards to play than just his ace.

18 Aug

whatever happened to …

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.

06 May

winging 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.