A combined 1-for-9 performance at the plate from your two best offensive players is not often thought of as a recipe for winning baseball games. But for Southern Miss on Friday night, those shortcomings didn’t matter.
Despite off nights from Luke Reynolds, the 2018 Conference USA Player of the Year, and star sophomore Matt Wallner, the Golden Eagles opened the Fayetteville Regional with a 9-0 thumping of Dallas Baptist.
It was a likely hero on the mound, Nick Sandlin, and an unlikely one at the plate, Cole Donaldson, who led the way for Southern Miss.
Sandlin got the start on the mound and turned in another lights out performance, going seven shutout innings with 10 strikeouts. When it came to Sandlin’s run support, Donaldson collected a career-high five RBI on three hits, including a three-run home run that put the Golden Eagles up 6-0 in the sixth inning.
From there on out, Southern Miss added three more runs in cruising to the win and setting up a Saturday showdown in the winner’s bracket versus top-seeded Arkansas.
“[I’m] just real proud of the way our team came out and competed from the first inning on against a very good Dallas Baptist team, a team that’s had 40 wins this year and plays in a really good conference in the Missouri Valley,” said Golden Eagle head coach Scott Berry. “I think, at the end of the day, our guys were able to establish some momentum and continue that momentum.”
Dallas Baptist came close to doing the same Friday night. Trailing by just one run, 1-0, in the fourth, the Patriots had runners on first and second base with nobody out. After a sac-bunt moved them over, Sandlin answered with two strikeouts to end the frame unscathed. Then, in the sixth, the Patriots threatened again, loading the bases with one out. Again, Sandlin got out of the jam, this time with a double play to preserve Southern Miss’ 3-0 lead.
“[I was] just trying to minimize right there in those innings,” said Sandlin. “It was alright if one run scored. We had the lead the whole game pretty much with our offense swinging it well.”
It was Donaldson who led the way in that department. Aside from his three-run homer, the junior added a pair of RBI doubles, as well as a walk on the way to a 3-for-3 day at the plate.
“I went up there and was not trying to do too much,” said Donaldson. “In batting practice before the game, I kind of worked on a few things, kind of feeling it around and trying not to do too much.”
Hunter Slater added three hits, including a solo home run which put Southern Miss up 1-0 in the second inning. As previously mentioned, the Golden Eagles, who improved to 44-16 with the win, will next face Arkansas, a trendy pick to make a run to Omaha in the coming weeks.
“We know that they [Arkansas] are a very good offensive club, and I know they’re 31-3 at home,” said Berry. “All those things are obviously big challenges. But if you look and keep the game simple, every game’s a challenge. It’s hard to win any game.
“We’ve got 44 wins and have been played really well. I want our guys to come out here and not get in their on way. I want them to be humble after this first win in this regional tonight and come out tomorrow and embrace the opportunity to win a baseball game. The opponent happens to be Arkansas tomorrow night.”
First pitch is scheduled for 7 pm at Baum Stadium.