Catcher Cole Donaldson drove in career-high five runs with two doubles and a home run and Nick Sandlin pitched seven scoreless innings as the University of Southern Mississippi beat Dallas Baptist University 9-0 Friday night in the opening round of the Fayetteville Regional.
“I feel good,” Donaldson said. “That was my best game all year.”
With the win, second-seeded USM (44-16) won an NCAA opening-round game for a third consecutive postseason and will take on regional host University of Arkansas in a winner’s bracket game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Baum Stadium.
The top-seeded Razorbacks (40-18) defeated fourth-seeded Oral Roberts University 10-2 in Friday’s opening game of the double-elimination tournament.
Left-hander Stevie Powers (5-1, 3.28 ERA) is expected to get the pitching start for the Golden Eagles, while Arkansas is expected to throw left-hander Kacey Murphy (7-4, 3.15 ERA).
ORU (38-19) will meet the third-seeded Patriots (40-20) in an elimination bracket game at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Sandlin (10-0) became the first Golden Eagle since Bob McCrory in 2003 to strike out 10 batters in a NCAA Regional game. He scattered four singles and walked three and extended his postseason string of shutout innings to 16.
Sandlin pitched a complete-game, 2-0 shutout against the University of Alabama-Birmingham last week in the opener of the 2018 Conference USA Baseball Championship.
Donaldson, who had come into the regional with six extra-base hits on the season, cracked three more Friday, including a three-run home run in the four-run sixth inning USM put together to seize control of the game.
“I tried not to do too much,” Donaldson said. “That first at-bat, I drew a walk, and then my next few at at-bats, I tried to zero in and kind of just look for a pitch I could handle, and was lucky enough. In those situations, you’re just looking for a pitch that you can put a good barrel on.”
Up until then, Sandlin (10-0) had kept the Patriots off the scoreboard as the Golden Eagles nicked DBU starter Trevor Conn (8-2) for a run in the second inning and two more in the fourth.
First baseman Hunter Slater, who like Donaldson had three hits, swatted his 11th home run of the season to lead off the second inning and give USM a 1-0 lead.
The Golden Eagles strung together a trio of two-out hits in the fourth inning, a single by Daniel Keating, Donaldson’s double into the right-field gap to score Keating, and Irby’s single into right field that scored Donaldson and gave the Golden Eagles a 3-0 lead.
“That was real big moment for us in that inning when we scored those two runs,” USM coach Scott Berry said.
The runs were crucial, because Dallas Baptist was battling through at-bats on a stuffy, energy-draining night. Sandlin, who had cruised through the first three innings, had to dig deep to get out of a pair of jams over his final four frames.
Dallas Baptist had runners on second and third with one out in the fourth inning, but Sandlin gave a little fist pump coming off the mound after getting a pair of strikeouts to end the threat.
In the sixth inning, the Patriots loaded the bases with one out on a pair of singles sandwiched around a walk. But Sandlin got a sharply-hit ground ball right to USM shortstop LeeMarcus Boyd, who started a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat.
“I was just trying to minimize right there,” Sandlin said. “It was all right if one run scored because we had the lead, and pretty much had had the lead the whole game with our offense swinging it well.
“So, I was just trying to minimize there and was lucky enough to get that one ball right at LeeBo.”
In the bottom of the inning, Slater and Keating reached with one out after being hit by a pitch from DBU reliever Jordan Martinson in back-to back at-bats. Donaldson worked the count to 3-1, and then went opposite field over the fence near the DBU bullpen to give the Golden Eagles a 6-0 lead.
An USM wasn’t done. A walk to Irby and singles by Boyd and Gabe Montenegro loaded the bases and Matthew Guidry’s sacrifice fly scored Irby to give USM a 7-0 lead after six innings.
USM added a run in the seventh inning on Donaldson’s double into the left-field corner, and scored its final run on Luke Reynolds’ run-scoring single in the eighth inning.
Conn and three other Dallas Baptist relievers were able to minimize the danger of USM’s two-three-four hole hitters in Guidry, Reynolds and Matt Wallner, The trio went 1-for-12 with two RBIs.
But Slater and Donaldson both stepped up.
“You’re bearing down almost every single pitch, and with all those lefties in a row, you almost have a little breather now (with the right-handed hitting Donaldson) and your right-hander’s on the mound,” DBU coach Dan Heefner said. “But (Donaldson) came up, and he put some great swings on it.
“But that’s why they’ve had so much success because they are good. They’ve got nine good hitters in that lineup.”
Copyright WDAM 2018. All Rights Reserved.