HATTIESBURG — Amid the sort of frantic intensity that college baseball embraces this time of year, Southern Miss coach Scott Berry peered out toward the mound and saw calmness.
Lefthanded sophomore Justin Storm pitched his way to what Berry and the Golden Eagles hope is a star turn, and a shot at the program’s second appearance in an NCAA Tournament super regional. The Golden Eagles defeated LSU 8-4 at Pete Taylor Park on Sunday, forcing the Hattiesburg Regional’s decisive game on Monday (3 p.m., ESPN+).
Spotting his fastball with an almost mechanical authority and generating whiff after whiff on his slider, Storm tossed five scoreless innings in relief. He struck out seven and walked just one. Both of the hits he conceded were inconsequential singles.
“In these moments, over a long career that I’ve had, I’ve seen stars born,” Berry said. “I’ve seen things out of people that the game just brings out…Certainly, this was a time tonight where I felt like that star was born.”
Even the most established superstars in college baseball would look back on a spotless performance like this and glow.
But this was more than a stellar outing on a massive stage. This was a discovery.
Storm entered the game with 9⅔ innings pitched for the season and a 4.66 earned run average. He’d never pitched more than 1⅔ innings in an outing at the college level until Sunday night, when he threw 85 vital pitches.
Each time he returned to the Southern Miss (46-17) dugout Storm encountered a probing Christian Ostrander, the pitching coach attempting to discern whether his young lefty had another inning in him.
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Time after time, Storm jogged up the dugout steps for more. He endured a nervy moment in the ninth, when two Tigers (40-21) reached base and brought the tying run to the on-deck circle. After the Golden Eagles blew a four-run lead in the final frame during a loss to LSU on Saturday, any kind of hiccup was bound to elevate the pulse of Southern Miss fans everywhere.
But Storm never succumbed to the moment – not until he sat before reporters and allowed himself to feel the effects of his Herculean effort.
“Really tired,” Storm said. “That’s how I feel.”
Storm’s sublime five innings were built on hours upon hours of toil, keeping his body and his arm capable of achieving something like this when called upon.
A hopeful mind proved to be a prerequisite for a rubber left arm.
“For me, it was just belief,” Storm said. “My time was coming. I needed to be my best.”
Berry drew a comparison to a similar outing by Tanner Hall last season. The freshman right-hander was a bullpen afterthought before he chucked five scoreless innings in an elimination game against Ole Miss.
Now, Hall leads a trio of outstanding weekend starters for Southern Miss, receiving first-team All-American honors.
All three of those starters were tapped out leading into Sunday night’s clash with LSU, and the three Southern Miss arms who preceded Storm in the game had combined to allow four runs in four innings.
Quickly, Berry and Ostrander audibled from their mix-and-match approach. And Storm rewarded them for the confidence, keeping the USM staff relatively fresh for what promises to be another taxing contest Monday.
“(Storm) had the opportunity just like Tanner Hall did last year on the really big stage, and just was so calm and in control,” Berry said. “That’s part of the growing process and that’s part of the development that we try to do to bring these guys along. Certainly, it showed tonight.”
Reach Southern Miss writer David Eckert at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @davideckert98.