Golden Eagles proving difficult to beat in Game 1's


HATTIESBURG – The Southern Miss Golden Eagles are nearly unbeatable in Game 1 of a weekend series. At least, they’ve played like it through their first five weeks.

Southern Miss opened the season with an 11-0 win over in-state rival Mississippi and a 16-2 win over Tennessee-Martin followed the next weekend. It needed 10 innings to beat Georgia Southern last week in Game 1, and USM junior Nick Sandlin’s only non-Game 1 start came the third weekend at the Cox Diamond Invitational in Pensacola, Fla. when USM played Eastern Michigan. The Eagles won that game, though, 9-4.

The only game Southern Miss lost when Sandlin started the game was against Ohio State in Game 2 of the Invitational. He put his team in position to win after exiting with six innings pitched, but the Buckeyes plated six runs in the final two frames to beat USM.

After Saturday’s Game 1 12-0 win over UTSA, the Golden Eagles are 5-0 in the opening game of a weekend series, and Sandlin has a lot to do with it.

“I’ve felt confident all year,” Sandlin said. “I’m definitely getting the hang of it, you know, trying to go longer in games. I know I’ve gone seven a few times and I’d like to keep going longer and try to keep that pitch count down. I’m definitely getting more comfortable, though.

“I would say I’m pretty settled in.”

Sandlin pitched seven innings of three-hit ball with 14 strikeouts, one walk and 69 percent of his pitches were for strikes Saturday against UTSA. He struck out the first five batters he faced and he didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning.

“I’ve been doing pretty good, so I’ve been trying to come out and not overthink stuff too much and not try to change anything,” Sandlin said. “Coach Oz told me to pitch to my strengths and just do what I’m doing. I’m just trying not to overthink it and keep up the pace.”

Sandlin hasn’t had the typical Friday starter experience. He’s only pitched under the lights once this season, despite being the Friday night guy all season long. His first two starts, while on Friday, were afternoon games, then he pitched another afternoon game in Pensacola before his first night game last weekend against Georgia Southern. This week, his Friday night start was moved to Saturday afternoon due to a rainy Friday in Hattiesburg.

The inconsistency isn’t brothering Sandin, though.

“It’s wasn’t too bad, especially since I got an extra day of rest this week,” he said. “It’s been a little different each time, but I guess that’s good for you. Just get ready whenever you have to get ready.”

Sandlin wasn’t the only story of the day. The Eagles’ offense collected 14 hits to total their 12 runs. Southern Miss scored six of its runs in the opening frame, which set the tone for Sandlin and the rest of the team.

“Whenever you spot him six runs after one inning, it’s pretty tough for the opposition to recover from that with him on the mound,” Southern Miss head coach Scott Berry said. “He set the tone right off the bat in that first inning.”

Offensively, leadoff man Gabe Montenegro and five-hole hitter Hunter Slater recorded three hits each. Montenegro picked up a pair of RBI while Slater had a team-high four RBI. Luke Reynolds and Mason Irby were the two other Golden Eagles with multiple hits.

Irby’s batting average continues to rise, too. In two games, he’s bumped his average from .171 to .273.