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|Bowden boils Rice batters|
When Southern Mississippi senior Trey Sutton hit a home run off of Rice All-American pitcher Ryan Berry in the top of the first inning, Eagle pitcher Barry Bowden had no idea that would be all the runs he needed on the day.
After all, this was 10th-ranked Rice University, a regular participant in the College World Series and a team that had lost only four Conference-USA games since joining C-USA two years ago.
But eight innings later, Bowden was still pitching a shutout, one that would be preserved by relief pitcher Tyler Conn after Bowden went 8 2/3 innings, allowing only four hits while striking out 10 Rice batters. Rice entered the game averaging seven runs a game and a team batting average of .308.
"I didn't think I would still be pitching in the ninth inning with a shutout," Bowden admitted.
Bowden, who picked up his second straight Conference USA Pitcher of the Week honor and third overall, improved to 5-1 on the season.
"Barry is having a heckuva year," said USM head coach Corky Palmer. "He's a big reason why our record is as good as it is. He doesn't get a lot of run support."
Palmer began coaching at USM in 1997.
"Barry is as good any anybody I've had here," Palmer said. "He's as fine a Friday night starter that I have had. He has been tremendous. Every Friday night he gives us a chance to win."
The win in Houston was USM's first-ever win against Rice in Reckling Park.
Only one Rice runner reached third base and that was Adam Zornes, who doubled to lead off the seventh inning and was sacrificed to third. With the tying run at third base and one out Bowden struck out the next two Rice batters to end the threat.
Bowden did not allow a Rice base runner until the third inning and did not surrender his first hit until the fourth. Rice did not have an inning in which they had more that one hit and only three runners were able to reach as far as second base.
"I was getting good location of my fastball," Bowden said. "I was working off of that and my change-up."
Rice attempted to rally in the ninth as Diego Seastruck led off the inning with a single to right field and Bowden hit Zornes with a high fastball after recording the first two outs of the inning. With the tying run in scoring position Palmer turned the ball over to closer Tyler Conn.
Conn, who leads the nation with seven saves, did not travel with the team to Houston because of a stomach virus he was suffering from Thursday morning, instead caught a flight this afternoon from Mississippi and joined the team at Recking Park before the game. He picked up his seventh save striking out pinch hitter Derek Myers on five pitches to end the game.
"The funny thing about that is on Thursday when we were scheduled to leave and I was packing to get on the bus, I didn't see Tyler's bag sitting there," Bowden said. "Then they told me he had a stomach bug and didn't even make the trip with us. He showed up at 3 o'clock Friday in a T-shirt and sweatpants eating a Subway sandwich. He said that was the only thing he had eaten in two days. I would have loved to have finished the game, but I was done after 115 pitches. I'm just glad Tyler made the trip."
Berry, last year's College Freshman Pitcher of the Year, struck out a career high 13 batters and made only one mistake in the game and that was the pitch that Sutton drilled over the right-center field wall for a solo home run in the first inning. He threw eight innings allowing only four hits and three walks in addition to his 13 strikeouts.
Rice beat writers call Berry "The Chemist" because he looks like he would be more comfortable mixing compounds and polymers in the school's laboratory than switching speeds with his pitches.
"He really settled down after that home run," Bowden said. "I knew he was a great pitcher and I would have to keep their hitters at bay the best I could to give us a chance to win. He showed why he is an All-American."
Bowden's earned run averaged dipped to 1.47 after the Rice game and he has now struck out 45 batters and walked just 13. He has allowed just 26 hits in 43.0 innings. That's an average of close to only four hits allowed in his six starts.
"It's great to get off to this kind of start, especially with this being my senior year," Bowden said. "This is the most comfortable I have ever been on the mound. I just have to keep it going."
Bowden now has 255 career strikeouts at USM, trailing former Golden Eagle great Ray Guy by 11. With 31 more strikeouts, Bowden will move into third place in all-time career strikeouts at USM.
"His numbers are as good as I can remember," Palmer said. "He's just a tough competitor and he can throw his changeup in any count. He's pitched in a lot of big ball games, and they don't bother him because he's pitched in enough of them."
Rice entered the series this weekend having won 26 consecutive conference series dating back to March of 2005 when the Owls were in the Western Athletic Conference.
Southern Miss lost the second game, but won Game 3 by an 8-7 score to take the series.
Rice had won every C-USA series since joining the league in 2006 and are now 47-5 in C-USA play.
"That is awesome to take the series," Bowden said. "It feels great. We just need to continue building off of that."
Bowden will be on the mound again Friday as USM hosts East Carolina this weekend.
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