HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Nick Sandlin returned to the University of Southern Mississippi's pitching rotation Saturday evening like he never had left it as the 13th-ranked Golden Eagles finished off a Conference USA doubleheader sweep by polishing off Middle Tennessee State University 8-0 in the nightcap.
Sandlin faced 16 batters in five scoreless innings, striking out 12 and allowing just one hit as USM (28-11, 13-4 C-USA) completed the first sweep of a three-game C-USA series this season with Saturday double dip of the Blue Raiders (20-20-1, 6-11-1).
Hunter Slater hit the first grand slam of his career to help the 13th-ranked Golden Eagles claim their 10th consecutive conference series. USM outscored MTSU 28-3 in three-game sweep, including 19-2 Saturday when 4,239 came to watch.
Sandlin (5-0), who had missed a start in the rotation after being pulled from a game against Western Kentucky on April 6 after one inning, picked up where he left off, logging his fifth, 10-plus-strikeouts game of the season. He struck out the side in three of his five innings.
"I just went and tried to find the (strike) zone early, and once I did, it just felt regular," Sandlin said. "It's a bit of relief to know that you really didn't lose anything."
Slater's eighth home run of the season highlighted a six-run third inning that saw Daniel Keating follow the grand slam with his third homer of the year, a solo shot to left field.
The slam was the Golden Eagles' fourth of the season. The first three all belonged among Matt Wallner's 11 home runs.
Saturday, Wallner drove in a run in the nightcap with a fourth-inning double and then came around to score USM's final run on two wild pitches.
MTSU starter Drew Huff (1-1) allowed six runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings.
In the opener, Walker Powell checked MTSU on two runs over six innings and Mason Irby had three hits and drove in four runs USM to an 11-2 victory.
LeeMarcus Boyd and Luke Reynolds hit two-run home runs three batters apart in the fifth inning.
Irby and Gabe Montenegro had run-scoring singles to take a 2-0 lead off MTSU starter Carson in the second inning before the Golden Eagles scored five runs with two outs in the third.
With the bases loaded, Irby came through with a bases-clearing double and Matthew Guidry followed three batters later with a two-run single.
Boyd hit his fifth home run of the season and Reynolds smacked his eighth in the four-run fifth to give USM its final runs.
Powell (4-2) went six innings for the Golden Eagles, allowing two runs on five hits. He walked one and struck out four. Cody Carroll allowed one hit in two scoreless innings, walking one and striking out four.
Lester (3-4) allowed seven runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings, walking three and striking out three.
USM had double-digit hits (15) for a fifth consecutive game and scored 10 or more runs for the 14th time this season. Reynolds, Guidry and Keating had two hits apiece. Irby scored three runs, while Reynolds, Keating and Boyd each scored twice.