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|Bowden anxious to start senior year|
It doesn't take a rocket science to see why Barry Bowden jumped from a weekday pitcher to one of Southern Mississippi's top pitchers last season.
After walking 34 batters over 73.2 innings as a freshman and allowing 30 free passes to first base over 57.2 innings as a sophomore, Bowden walked only 28 batters over 98.1 innings. That was a big key to his 7-4 record, 3.11 earned run average and the fact opposing batters hit only .247 against him. He totaled 86 strikeouts last season, almost averaging a strikeout each inning.
"I finally got my motion and mechanics back on the mound," said Bowden, who injured his shoulder his senior season at Vidalia and had surgery after making two appearances in relief as a freshman at USM, leading to a red-shirt year. "My shoulder really didn't bother me, but I had adjusted my throwing motion and changed it a little bit. Because of that I was walking people and getting behind on the count."
Bowden was the Eagles' Saturday pitcher last year in conference play and said while he would like to pitch on Friday nights, he would be satisfied with once again pitching on Saturday.
"I'm just going out and trying to have another good year," he said. "I take things one game at a time and don't look forward too much."
Bowden said he often thinks about this being his final season at USM.
"It seems like just the other day I was coming in and getting into my dorm for the first time," he said.
The Southern Miss baseball team takes its first step towards earning its sixth-straight postseason appearance, Monday, when the team begins its fall practice schedule.
The Golden Eagles, which finished 39-21 overall last season and were 14-10 in Conference USA play, earned a third-place finish in league play last year and also played in the Oxford Regional, going 1-2 in that event as the program's win mark reached at least 39 for each of the past five seasons.
Palmer welcomes back 13 new players, along with 10 position players and eight pitchers who saw action from last year's squad
"Everybody has big expectations for us this year," Bowden said. "That puts a little pressure on you, but it's good having that support behind you and that's a product of good things happening with the program. I really haven't thought about any personal goals. Every pitcher would love more wins, lower ERA and better numbers, but I haven't made any specific goals."
Bowden said his fastball is still consistently in the high 80s, topping out in the low 90s.
"During the fall I tried to develop my curve ball to where it used to be," he said. "It kind of slipped away from me. My main pitch has always been the change-up. It doesn't matter how hard you throw, you have to mix it up and make good pitches at this level. It's definitely about hitting your spots. I don't have the fastball to just throw it by people. I try to out-think the batter and set them up for the next pitch."
Twenty-two games against nine different teams that reached last year's postseason, including three schools that made the College World Series, highlight the Southern Miss 56-game schedule in 2008.
It is a schedule that USM head coach Corky Palmer describes as the toughest that the program has faced in this his 11th year at the helm of the program.
The slate features 31 home games, including 11 contests against five different opponents that reached the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
Those five teams include Troy (Apr. 1-2), East Carolina (Apr. 4-6), 2007 College World Series participant Mississippi State (Apr. 22-23), New Orleans (Apr. 29) and Memphis (May 9-11).
The season opens at home against Lipscomb with a three-game set, Feb. 22-24. Southern Miss also entertains Cal State Northridge (March 14, 16) and Liberty (March 15) in the annual Coca-Cola Classic.
The remaining home schedule includes Louisiana-Monroe (Feb. 26), South Alabama (Feb. 27), Southeastern Louisiana (March 18), UCF (March 21-23), LSU (April 9), Arkansas State (April 11-13), Mississippi Valley State (April 15) and Houston (April 25-27).
Bowden was the losing pitcher in a 15-8 loss at LSU last year.
"That ended up being my worst start of the season," Bowden said. "I would love to take the mound against them again and try to make amends. I think I put too much pressure on myself last year."
The road portion of the ledger beings Feb. 29-March 2 at Lafayette, La., when the Golden Eagles take on 2007 NCAA participant Louisiana-Lafayette twice (Feb. 29, March 2) and face Miami of Ohio (March 1). That swing continues with a March 4 tilt at Ole Miss, where the Golden Eagles played in the NCAA Regional last spring, before traveling for a weekend series at Cal State Fullerton (March 7-9), which reached last season's CWS. The Eagles continue the following week with one more road game at New Orleans (March 12).
Other road games include single dates at Louisiana-Monroe (March 19), Southeastern Louisiana (April 30) and South Alabama (May 13) and the Golden Eagles are slated to play single dates against Ole Miss (March 25) and Alabama (April 16) at Trustmark Park in Jackson.
"It's always fun playing Louisiana teams," Bowden said.
The tough road trips also include three-game series at CWS participant Rice (March 28-30), Tulane (April 18-20), Marshall (May 2-4) and UAB (May 15-17).
"Coach told us in a meeting at the end of fall ball that this is the toughest schedule we have ever had," Bowden said. "But he wouldn't have made it if he didn't have confidence in us to compete with it. And the competition will be good for us and help up later in the season and hopefully in the postseason, if we make it."
Beyond that, Bowden, who is majoring in business administration, hasn't dwelled on his baseball future.
"If I get the opportunity, then that would be great," he said. "But I'm not going to stress about it."
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