Baseball Preview: Southern Mississippi

Cal State Fullerton welcomes Southern Mississippi to Goodwin Field this weekend after sweeping a two game midweek series against UCLA that followed right on the heels of getting swept last weekend at their house of horrors – Stanford – where the Titans have now gone 1-17 against the Cardinal since 1998.

Southern Mississippi is annually one of the better programs in Conference USA and has qualified for a regional in each of the last five seasons.  The Golden Eagles have gone 6-3 to start the season after sweeping 3 games against Lipscomb, winning 2 out of 3 games at Louisiana-Lafayette’s tournament and going 1-2 in midweek games the first two weeks.

LINEUP

Southern Miss had a solid lineup last year and returned several of the better hitters from that team.  However, the Golden Eagles are off to a very slow start at the plate this season, hitting .238 as a team and averaging just over four runs per game.  They have scored 5 or more runs only three times (two of those games were against Lipscomb) and have been held to 3 runs or less three times.  The Golden Eagles don’t have much power with only five HR’s and don’t play much little ball with only 3 SAC’s and 5 SB’s.  They will work the count to see lots of pitches, averaging around 4 BB’s per game but also averaging over 8 K’s per game.

Infield

Southern Miss had a solid defensive ballclub last year, fielding .973 as a team, and has played well defensively this year in making only five errors and fielding .985 as a team.

C Keith Winstead (RH - .250-0-5-0) was the backup C last year, hitting .333 in 54 AB’s with 3 HR’s.  He has K’d 11 times in 24 AB’s.  JC transfer Kyle Maxie (LH - .280-1-5-1) is the backup C, starting twice behind the plate, and is the DH most of the time.  The other DH is Trey Cuevas (RH - .143-1-6-1), who led the team last year with 10 HR’s but only hit .256.  He has K’d 7 times in 14 AB’s so he will be swinging for the fences when he is in the lineup.  Two of these three will usually be in the middle of the order, hitting anywhere from 3rd to 5th.

Trey Sutton (LH - .265-0-2-0) is the 1B and his slow start has contributed to the struggles for Southern Miss offensively after he was their best hitter last year (.368-8-38-12).  Sutton is one of the few base stealing threats and usually hits 2nd or 3rd.  2B Chris Matesich (RH - .167-0-1-0) is in the lineup for his glove, not his bat, and usually bats at the bottom of the order.  James Ewing (RH – 1-12) was the starting 2B last year (.257 last year in 59 starts) but has been beaten out of the position by Matesich.  SS Brian Dozier (RH - .394-0-7-1) is one of the few players hitting well and is one of their better players and hit .339 last year, second on the team.  He usually hits at the top of the lineup but isn’t much of a base stealing threat (5 SB’s last year).  JC transfer Josh Fields (RH - .222-1-3-0) plays 3B and is also in the lineup for his glove, usually hitting at the bottom of the order.

Outfield

LF has been somewhat of a platoon situation with Drew Carson (.333-1-2-2) getting most of the AB’s.  Carson was a part-time starter last year and hit .238, has good speed and is also the backup CF, usually hitting in the lower part of the order.  The CF and leadoff hitter is Bo Davis (RH - .154-0-1-0), who is one of the faster players on the team (hitting .264 with 12 SB’s last year in a part-time role) and will work the count (6 BB’s).  RF Michael Ewing (LH - .200-1-1-0) has gotten off to a slow start, which has also contributed to the team’s offensive struggles after he led the team with 48 RBI’s last year.  Backup OF’s who might see playing time are JC transfer Corey Stevens (RH – 2-9) and FR Anthony Doss (LH – 2-11).

PITCHING

With the difficulties that Southern Miss has had in putting runs on the board, the pitching staff has had to keep the Golden Eagles in games and is the major reason why they are 6-3.  The team ERA is a solid 3.08 and the pitching staff has been outstanding in only allowing their opponents to hit only .219.  The Southern Miss pitching staff has held teams to 3 runs or less six times.  Southern Miss returns two of their SP’s from last year and their closer so pitching is definitely their strength.

Starters

Friday - Barry Bowden (RHP – 2-0, 0.63 ERA, 2 starts, 14.1 IP, 5 H’s, 1 R, 3 BB’s, 14 K’s) has been lights out in both of his starts this season.  Bowden pitched a complete game shutout at Louisiana-Lafayette last week, holding them to 2 H’s with 10 K’s.  Bowden was the Sat SP last year, going 7-4, 3.11 ERA in 16 starts with 86 K’s in 98 IP and allowed only 5 HR’s.

Saturday - David Clark (RHP – 1-0, 3.09 ERA, 2 starts, 11.2 IP, 12 H’s, 4 R’s, 3 BB’s, 10 K’s) was iffy in his first start before pitching well last week against Miami (OH), holding them to 1 R and 6 H’s in 7.1 IP.  Clark was the Sun SP last year, going 8-5, 4.85 ERA in 16 starts with 73 K’s in 95 IP.  Despite having a relatively high ERA, Clark led the SP’s in BA avg last year, holding hitters to a .239 BA but when he allowed hits, they were usually for extra bases (15 doubles, 11 HR’s).

Sunday - Josh Billeaud (0-1, 4.85 ERA, 2 starts, 13 IP, 10 H’s, 7 R’s, 5 BB’s, 8 K’s) is a JC transfer who did not pitch well in his first start but bounced back last week with a solid outing against Louisiana-Lafayette, holding them to 2 R’s and 4 H’s in 7.1 IP.

Relievers

The closer for Southern Miss is Tyler Conn (LHP, 4 apps, 4 saves, 4 H’s, 0 R’s, 10 K’s), who has been lights out this season.  He has K’d 10 of 16 batters he has faced so Fullerton will not want to go into the 9th inning trailing.  Conn was solid last year, going 1-2, 2.70 ERA in 47 IP with 5 saves in 31 apps with 33 K’s while allowing 46 H’s and 18 BB’s.  The primary set-up man is also a LHP, JC transfer Wade Weathers (0-0, 3.52 ERA, 5 apps, 7.2 IP, 4 H’s, 3 R’s, 2 BB’s, 9 K’s), who hasn’t allowed a run in 4 of 5 apps. 

Other relievers for Southern Miss are Seth Hester (RHP, 3R’s, 1 ER allowed in 4.1 IP, 2 apps), Jonathon Johnston (RHP, 0 R’s allowed in 2.2 IP, 2 apps), Collin Cargill (RHP, 0 R’s allowed in 2 IP, 2 apps), JR Ballinger (RHP, 1 R allowed in 2.2 IP, 2 apps) and midweek SP’s Todd McInnis (RHP, 2-1, 5.40 ERA, 3 apps, 2 midweek starts) and Brian Leach (RHP, 2 R’s allowed in 3.1 IP in one midweek start).

OUTLOOK

Runs figure to be at a premium this weekend with Southern Miss pitching well and playing solid defense while struggling at the plate.  To win this series, Fullerton is going to have to both pitch and field much better than they did last weekend at Stanford.  Fullerton has fared well at home against Conference USA teams over the last few years (Rice, East Carolina, Tulane), going 8-1 at home against them.  If Fullerton plays like they did at Stanford, this will be a long weekend.  If Fullerton continues to play like they did in their two midweek wins against UCLA, the Titans should find a way to scratch out a couple of wins and win this series.