It came as no surprise that Nick Sandlin played a starring role Friday night in Southern Miss' opener of the Fayetteville Regional, but he was joined by unlikely hero.
Sandlin (10-0) was in his usual form, holding Dallas Baptist scoreless for seven innings in a 9-0 victory in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Sandlin's 10 strikeouts tied a USM single-game record for NCAA tournament play. He gave up no runs on four hits in seven innings, walking three.
The unexpected star at the plate proved to be Sandlin's catcher, junior Cole Donaldson.
Donaldson, a player known more for his defense, entered the Fayetteville Regional in a slump at the plate. He had a .244 batting average and was 1-of-16 during the Conference USA tournament.
On Friday night, he finished 3-of-3 with an RBI double, a 3-run home run in the sixth inning and five total RBIs.
It was just Donaldson's second home run of the season and his first since Feb. 24.
“I tried not to do too much,” Donaldson said in the post-game press conference. “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.”
The Golden Eagles (44-16) advance to set up a 7 p.m. game against Arkansas on Saturday. The host Razorbacks thumped No. 4 seed Oral Roberts 10-2 in the first game of the day.
Hunter Slater provided an early spark at the plate for Southern Miss when he took a pitch just to the left of center for a solo homer to give his team a 1-0 lead to begin the bottom of the second.
Gulfport product Daniel Keating began a two-out rally in the fourth, ripping a single to left to become the first man to reach in the inning. Donaldson followed with a double to deep right, allowing Keating to score from first.
Donaldson later advanced to third on a wild pitch and Mason Irby brought him home with a single.
USM led 3-0 after four innings.
Donaldson's 3-run homer was part of a four-run sixth inning for the Golden Eagles that also included a sacrifice fly RBI from Matt Guidry.
USM forced Dallas Baptist starting pitcher Trevor Conn into a high pitch count early in the game. The right-hander lasted just four innings, giving up three runs on four hits. He struck out seven and walked two on 86 pitches.
USM head coach Scott Berry revealed after the game that junior left-hander Stevie Powers (5-1, 3.28) is expected to get the start Saturday against Arkansas.
Dallas Baptist dropped to 40-20 and will take on Oral Roberts at 2 p.m. on Saturday in an elimination game.