Southern Miss

Southern Miss 'locked in' at the plate, 1 win away from C-USA title game

HATTIESBURG - Facing a full count with two down and the bases loaded in the third, Southern Miss senior Jake Sandlin put a perfect cut on a fastball, flicked his bat aside and watched the ball soar high into the pine trees above the right field fence Thursday night.

Sandlin knew "100 percent" when the ball left his bat that he had hit his second home run in as many nights at Pete Taylor Park.

"On a scale of one to 10, I hit it about a 12," Sandlin said. "I don't think I'm going to hit one better than that anytime soon. Yeah, I got it."

USM put together its second consecutive thrashing of an opponent to start the Conference USA Tournament with a 9-3 win over Marshall Thursday night at Pete Taylor Park.

With Sandlin and several other Golden Eagles swinging hot bats, the Southern Miss baseball team appears determined to slug its way back into the NCAA regional host picture.

With the win, USM will sit and watch the two games set for Friday.

"It's huge for the whole team," USM catcher Chuckie Robinson said of getting Friday off. "We can get off our feet, catch a game or two and rest for Saturday."

Southern Miss (38-18) will play the winner of Friday's 6:30 p.m. Marshall-FIU game in a semifinal contest at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. Whichever opponent USM plays Saturday will have to beat the Eagles twice to advance to Sunday's 1 p.m. title contest.

USM, which is one win away from the championship game, can help its chances of hosting an NCAA regional with a C-USA tournament title and it has been the most impressive team so far at Pete Taylor Park this week.

After hitting three homers in a 17-5 win over Old Dominion in seven innings Wednesday, USM again relied on the long ball with a pair on Thursday. The big blast of the night was by Sandlin and Robinson added a solo homer in the fifth, his sixth of the season, to help the Eagles cruise to a win over No. 2 seed Marshall.

Southern Miss totaled 10 hits on Thursday after pounding out 17 on Wednesday.

"They're locked in," USM coach Scott Berry said of his batters. "They're getting pitches to hit and they're not taking them and they're not missing them for the most part."

Sandlin, a senior transfer from Div. II Georgia College, finished 2-for-5 with four RBIs.

USM starting pitcher Kirk McCarty didn't put in his best outing of the season, but it was more than enough. He gave up three runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings to improve to 7-1. The Oak Grove product struck out three and walked one.

Senior right-hander Nick Johnson was impressive out of the bullpen, throwing 2 2/3 perfect innings, and Nick Sandlin finished off the win with a scoreless ninth.

Marshall jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first with Aaron Bossi and Tyler Ratliff both knocking in runs for the Herd (33-20).

The Eagles answered by sending all nine batters to the plate in the bottom of the inning. Pascagoula product Tracy Hadley grounded out with the bases loaded to plate the first run. Two batters later, Robinson placed a single down the right field line to bring home two more runs.

Robinson finished 2-of-3 with three RBIs to bring his total of RBIs to 20 in the month of May and 43 this season.

Berry said he was unsure who would be his starting pitcher on Saturday, but the likely candidate appears to be freshman right-hander Walker Powell, who is 4-3 with a 3.50 ERA in 17 appearances this year.

INJURY REPORT: Senior second baseman/outfielder Chase Scott, who was struck in the cheek by a pitch on Wednesday, did not play in Thursday's game, but Berry said that he did not suffer a concussion.

"It's just kind of day-to-day right now," Berry said. "He's pretty swollen. He has a small little fracture below the cheek bone. We've gotten a helmet that protects that area. We'll let the swelling get down a little bit."