Southern Miss

With about 25 MLB scouts on hand, Southern Miss’ new ace made a big statement

Southern Miss starting pitcher Nick Sandlin throws against Mississippi State during the first inning of their game at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018.
Southern Miss starting pitcher Nick Sandlin throws against Mississippi State during the first inning of their game at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018.

There were about 25 Major League scouts on hand at Pete Taylor Park Friday night and every single one of them had to be impressed by what they saw out of the Southern Miss starting pitcher.

After earning All-American status as a closer in his first two seasons at USM, Nick Sandlin appears every bit as filthy as a starter.

Aside from working around a bases-loaded jam in the third inning, Sandlin breezed through the Mississippi State lineup for an 11-0 victory Friday night at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg.

Eight months after USM stumbled to two consecutive losses to MSU on the final day of the Hattiesburg Regional, Sandlin helped the Golden Eagles earn a small bit of redemption in the first of three games at Pete Taylor Park.

Sandlin was at ease in his new role, setting career highs by lasting seven innings and striking out nine batters. Most importantly, he didn’t walk a single Bulldog.

“Sandlin was incredible tonight,” Mississippi State coach Andy Cannizaro said. “He was the best guy in the ballpark tonight.”

USM head coach Scott Berry was not on the field Friday as he served the first of a two-game suspension for being ejected from the Hattiesburg Regional finale, but Sandlin’s success comes as no surprise.

“I think he’s no different than guys that we’ve had in the past with Todd McInnis and Andrew Pierce,” Berry said. “If we had asked them to play another role, they would have done so easily. Those two guys could have closed games.

“Looking at Sandlin, he’s suited all the way around. He’s athletic on the mound and he can make adjustments.”

On a night when most Major League scouts were on hand to watch USM’s Matt Wallner swing the bat and Mississippi State left-hander Konnor Pilkington take the mound, it was Sandlin who had to raise eyebrows among the scouts.

Pilkington, an East Central product, was solid in 4 innings. He gave up two runs on five hits, striking out six and walking none. The lefty threw 78 pitches (46 strikes).

Pilkington was starting to lose some energy when he took the mound to begin the fifth inning. The first batter he faced, Matthew Guidry, ripped a solo home run over the right field fence to give the Golden Eagles a 2-0 lead.

“I felt a little fatigued,” Pilkington said. “I was already at 77 pitches and then I throw a fastball over the middle of the plate and he hit it. That’s how it goes sometimes.”

While Pilkington began to tire in the fifth inning, Sandlin was far more durable than anticipated. He threw 93 pitches and 64 of those were strikes.

“(Ninety-three) sounds like a lot compared to what I’ve done, but that’s what I’ve been training to do all off-season,” he said.

Sandlin, who was making his first start since his senior year of high school, comes at hitters from a variety of angles – submarine, side-armed and over the top. It didn’t matter what the Georgia native’s release point was Friday night. He had the Bulldogs baffled.

MSU center fielder Jake Mangum, who finished 2-of-4, was a teammate of Sandlin’s in summer ball so he was well aware of what his team was facing.

“For righties, it’s tough,” Mangum said. “Hitting is all about timing. What he did really well tonight is he kept us off timing. He threw three pitches for strikes and changed arm slots. If you do that and throwing 93, good things are going to happen.”

Nice debut: After sitting out last season with a redshirt, junior third baseman Luke Reynolds made his first start for USM on Friday after transferring from Mississippi State.

He was one of two USM players with two hits, finishing 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs.

Cole Donaldson was also 2-for-4 with one RBI and LeeMarcus Boyd was 2-for-5 with one run scored. Second baseman Storme Cooper was 1-for-4 with one RBI.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee