Sandlin, USM shut down State, 11-0

Sandlin, USM shut down State, 11-0
USM (9-9, 2-3), which saw a two-game winning streak snapped. (Photo source: USM)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Matthew Guidry has seen plenty of The Nick Sandlin Show over the past few years with the University of Southern Mississippi baseball.

So, while Guidry was duly impressed as usual, he said he wasn't overly surprised by the performance the Golden Eagles' former closer turned in Friday night against Mississippi State University in his first career collegiate start.

Sandlin struck out a career-high nine batters during seven shutout innings as the No. 21 Golden Eagles stifled the No. 23 Bulldogs 11-0 victory at Pete Taylor Park.

Sandlin scattered four singles and didn't walk a batter in the longest outing of his career, retiring 13 of the last 14 batters he faced.

"About the only word that really describes it is 'wow,' and you can say you're really surprised by it, but really, you're not," said Matthew Guidry, one of four Golden Eagles to drive in at least two runs against four MSU pitchers in the season opener for both teams.

"That's just what he does. I've seen him do it all the time, though I never take it for granted. I love watching him do what he does and watching him compete. It's something special every time he toes the rubber."

The eighth-largest crowd in Taylor Park history, 4,948, and a horde of professional baseball scouts saw Sandlin outduel MSU ace Konnor Pilkington in the opening-game of the three-game series dubbed the Farm Bureau Classic.

USM nicked Pilkington (0-1) for a run in the fourth inning when newcomer third baseman Luke Reynolds singled, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a two-out double by veteran Hunter Slater.

"That was very important," said Reynolds, a former MSU player who has had to sit out the past two seasons during the transfer to Hattiesburg. "We were just wanting to punch them in the mouth first.

"We knew that if we punched them in the mouth first, we had the firepower to keep it on them."

And they had Sandlin, who had not started a game as a pitcher since his high school days in Georgia. The past two years he has been USM's lockdown closer, with 20 saves in two seasons and 10 wins in 2017.

Sandlin retired the Bulldogs in order in five of his seven innings, needing 93 pitches to cover that distance. The only time he got in any trouble came in the third inning, when he allowed consecutive singles with two outs to MSU left fielder Rowdey Jordan, center fielder Jake Mangum and first baseman Josh Hatcher.

But Sandlin got second baseman Hunter Stovall to bounce into an inning-ending force out and the Bulldogs would not manage multiple baserunners against him again.

Sandlin said his time as closer helped prepare him to handle such predicaments.

"I've been in a lot of situations like that before," Sandlin said. "I was just thankful (the hits) were just singles, and I've been there where you kind of had to (get) somebody out like you do late in the game, and I was fortunate to (get) that (out).

"That was definitely the turning point in the outing for me."

Guidry ended Pilkington's night when he took the first pitch of the fifth inning over the fence in right field to put the Golden Eagles up 2-0.

Pilkington gave up two runs on five hits in four-plus innings. He didn't walk anyone and struck out six.

USM shortstop LeeMarcus Boyd greeted reliever Keegan James with a double to right field, moved to third on a bunt and scored on Reynolds' fielder's choice grounder to the right side for a 3-0 USM lead after five innings.

The lead went to 4-0 in the sixth on a single by catcher Cole Donaldson, a two-base throwing error by James on a pickoff attempt and Guidry's sacrifice fly.

USM would carry a 6-0 lead into the final two innings after a run-scoring double by Reynolds and second baseman Storme Cooper's fielder's choice gave the Golden Eagles a pair of runs in the seventh against MSU reliever Jared Liebelt.

The Bulldogs would get two men on in each of the eighth and ninth innings but could not push anything across against a pair of USM relievers, left-hander Jacob Weirich and right-hander Keller Bradford.

USM pushed five more runs across in the eighth inning against Liebelt. Right fielder Matt Wallner singled in the first, Slater was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded for the second and the third scored when Donaldson coaxed a base-loaded walk.

Cooper then followed with a two-run single off Liebelt's leg into right field to give him a three-RBI night.

USM head coach Scott Berry picked up the 300th victory in his career even without stepping onto the diamond Friday. Berry was suspended for the first two games of the 2018 season after being ejected from an NCAA Regional game last spring.

Reynolds, Donaldson and Boyd each had two hits for the Golden Eagles, who finished with 11. Hatcher and Mangum collected five of MSU's six hits.

The teams will meet at 1 p.m. Saturday.

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