(Written prior to Southern’s 10-7 victory over Ole Miss on Sunday)
OXFORD — Score three or four runs for Southern Miss pitcher Walker Powell, he will almost always win. Score 21, which the Golden Eagles did Saturday against Southeast Missouri, Powell’s day will be like a stroll in the park.
And it was on a rainy afternoon at Swayze Field when Southern Miss pounded out 24 hits, 12 extra base hits and six home runs in a 21-0 thrashing of the Redhawks. The only detriment for Powell was an 80-minute rain delay that ended his day early after six innings of a typical Walker Powell performance.
In what possibly could have been the last performance of his Golden Eagle career, Powell allowed four hits and no runs over six innings. He struck out four and walked zero, which is nothing new. Some guys are throwers and some are pitchers. Powell is a pitcher. He commanded five pitches — a fastball, a cutter, a slider, a curve and a changeup — using both sides of the plate.
The odds are against Powell ever pitching again in a Southern Miss uniform. Even after Saturday’s cakewalk, the Golden Eagles still must win three straight games over two days against Ole Miss and Florida State. It’s not impossible, but it’s a chore times three.
If it was Powell’s last game in gold, it was a fitting end for a guy who has overcome so many obstacles to become one of college baseball’s best pitchers. He is, you know — a second-team All-American, Conference USA Pitcher of the Year and the winningest active pitcher in Division I baseball.
Well, let’s start with not one but two Tommy John surgeries. Powell was a senior in high school in Fayetteville, Ark., when he suffered his first severe elbow injury. He had already committed to play at Southern Miss.
Said Scott Berry, “I’ll never forget his dad calling me and telling me about it and then asking me if we were still going to honor his scholarship.”
How do you spell relief? If you are USM, it’s O-c-h and H-a-l-l.
Berry told him that of course he would. And, man, is he ever glad he did. But that wasn’t the end of Powell’s arm woes. Near the end of his freshman season, after becoming the Eagles’ Sunday starter, he tore the elbow ligament again. That required another Tommy John surgery. That was the spring of 2016. He had to sit out all of 2017, mending and rehabbing.
Not sure what the percentage is of pitchers who come back from two Tommy John surgeries to pitch again. It is not high. Powell did it. Man, did he do it.
If Saturday was Powell’s last game, these will be his career stats: 30 victories, 10 defeats, a .750 winning percentage, 272 strikeouts and just 55 walks over 338 innings. He is the second winningest pitcher in Southern Miss history, trailing only the great Todd McInnis, who had 33.
“Walker is just a remarkable young man,” Berry said. “His record speaks for itself but then when you consider all that he has had to overcome. He’s special and he’s been a great model for our young pitchers.”
He has been a terrific student, too. He graduated with honors over a year ago. He is one credit short of a master’s degree now.
When someone reminded Powell that Saturday might have been his last college performance and how it felt, he didn’t hesitate. “I can’t put it into words,” he said. “It’s been such a blessing for me and my family to play for these coaches and with these guys. It’s just been incredible. I couldn’t ask for a better place to play.”
Saturday, he couldn’t have asked for better support. Highlights: Chris Sargent slammed three home runs. Both Gabe Montenagro and Reed Trimble, the two guys at the top of the USM order, pounded out five hits apiece. Both had a pair of doubles. Danny Lynch, Will McGillis and Dustin Dickerson also homered.
You can bet Berry would love to be able to parse some of those hits and runs over a subsequent game or games.
You can also bet he wishes he had a rested Walker Powell to pitch again Sunday or possibly Monday.