Copeland hopes to remain undefeated for Southern Miss

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 4, 2010

HATTIESBURG (AP) — Southern Miss pitcher Scott Copeland has a perfect 11-0 record on a postseason-bound team, an accomplishment that would normally earn any player the highest of accolades.

But an undefeated regular season didn’t even make him the Conference USA Pitcher of the Year, and he’s often been overshadowed on his own team by fellow pitcher Todd McInnis.

‘‘I was shocked that he didn’t get conference pitcher of the year,’’ designated hitter Adam Doleac said. ‘‘He’s been nothing but great the entire year.’’

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A pair of victories for Copeland in a span of four days in the C-USA tournament makes him one of the hottest pitchers in the nation. The senior opened the tournament with an 8-2 win over Memphis and closed with 4-1/3 innings of hitless relief to help beat Rice 7-4 in the title game.

‘‘The Rice Owls were seeing beach balls at the plate,’’ catcher Travis Graves’ said of the Owls’ prior dominance of the tournament.

‘‘They were beating everybody by 10, 12, 15 runs. Todd came out there and gutted it out and Copeland came in and stepped it up. You could tell he had that swag about him — ‘I’m going to go out there and do what I’m supposed to do. I’m going to give my team a chance to win.’ He did a great job.’’

Copeland threw 12-1/3 innings in the tournament, getting both wins while allowing no runs on four hits to earn tournament MVP honors.

Typically a laid-back and quiet guy, Copeland is bringing a great deal of confidence every time he steps on the mound.

With his team playing this weekend in the NCAA Regional at Auburn, the 6-foot-4 Texan isn’t shy about expressing his desire to throw at 2 p.m. Friday against Clemson.

‘‘Oh yeah, I want the ball,’’ Copeland said. ‘‘Of course I want the ball. I’ll take the ball Saturday and Sunday (too).’’

While Copeland threw on two days’ rest against Rice, likely his only shot to throw in the Regional will come on Friday.

Copeland consistently put up quality innings throughout the regular season, but many attributed his perfect record to the run support he was receiving from his offense.

USM is averaging a whopping 10.6 runs in games that Copeland throws the first pitch. With McInnis battling a strained right elbow, Copeland has become the unquestioned No. 1 pitcher for the Eagles and he’s dominating opponents as much as any USM pitcher in recent memory. (2 of 2)

‘‘What you’re seeing in Scott Copeland is the mental side of his game is really starting to kick in,’’ Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. ‘‘And that means confidence. It means that he feels every time he goes out, he’s going to win and he’s going to dominate. That’s what you’ve got to have and every great player has that feeling.’’

Copeland features a fastball, slider and a change-up. The pitch that causes the most frustration for opposing batters is his fastball, which has distinct movement inside and low on right-handed hitters.

If college players were required to use wooden bats, Copeland would have caused plenty of splinters this season.

‘‘I try to control it and try to jam it into right-handed hitters,’’ Copeland said. ‘‘I try to work it away from left-handed hitters.’’

Opposing batters are often left trying to fend off Copeland’s fastball diving in on their hands.

‘‘I haven’t really caught someone who has the ball move as much as his does,’’ said Graves. ‘‘I remember coming in last year and it took me three or four weeks to get used to how much it moves and where to expect the ball to be when it leaves his hand.’’

Copeland’s struggles early last season came from his inability to control the dramatic run on his fastball. He ended the season with an ERA of 6.41, but he made some quality relief appearances in the postseason to help the Eagles reach the College World Series.

His fastball ranges in the 86 to 88 mph range while topping out at 90 from time to time, but it’s the movement that makes it so effective.

‘‘It’s hard to teach,’’ pitching coach Mike Federico said of Copeland’s hard-sinking fastball.

‘‘It’s one of those things where you have to have a feel for it. He just knows how to use the pressure points with his fingers to get inside the baseball. It’s not something you can just say, ’Hey, throw a two-seem fastball and everything is going to be all right.’ He really understands what he has to do and he locates it.’’

Copeland’s repertoire of pitches also limits power hitters. He gave up only four home runs all season. That may help against Clemson, which has hit 81 home runs this season.