It might be hard to find a hotter bat than that of former D’Iberville standout Dylan Hardy.
The current South Alabama left fielder entered Friday’s Hattiesburg Regional opener against Mississippi State having homered in three straight games. It took him all of one pitch to add to his season total.
The former Warrior drove the first pitch of the game from Cole Gordon well over Pete Taylor Park’s left field wall and South Alabama cruised to a 6-3 victory.
The Jaguars (40-19) advance to play Southern Miss at 6 p.m. Saturday. MSU (36-25) will need to win its 1 p.m. game against Illinois-Chicago to avoid going home early.
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“I’ve never hit a ball that hard in my life,” Hardy said after the press conference of his homer, which cleared the “Tradition of Excellence” billboard behind the left field wall.
After going homerless as a freshman last season, and hitting just one during the team’s 2017 regular season, Hardy hit two in the Sun Belt Tournament opener and another one two days later in the championship game.
Hardy followed up Friday’s homer with two more singles and finished 3-for-5 on the day.
“He’s one of the most dangerous leadoff hitters in the country right now,” USA coach Mark Calvi said of his left fielder, who has recorded at least one hit in 12 straight games.
Hardy’s success was just the start for USA as the former Warrior, Colton Thomas, Brendan Donovan and Travis Swaggerty combined for seven hits and six walks.
MSU coach Andy Cannizaro turned some heads earlier in the week when he announced he was going to start Cole Gordon in place of ace and former East Central standout Konnor Pilkington. The move blew up in the Bulldogs’ face as the right-hander didn’t make it out of the third inning, finishing with three earned runs allowed on five walks and three hits in two innings.
Asked if in retrospect he regretted the decision, Cannizaro said “not at all.”
“There was absolutely no saving of Konnor Pilkington for anybody. We felt like Cole Gordon matched up extremely well with those guys,” he said. “We expected him to go out there and pitch really well. You’re talking about a guy that just went seven shutout innings last week against the University of Florida.
“He just didn’t do it tonight. Have I lost confidence in him and feel like he can’t get it done? Not at all. Tonight he just didn’t get it done.”
It could have been worse early on for MSU as Gordon walked the bases loaded in the third before Peyton Plumlee induced a pop-up and then struck out the next two Jaguars to avoid further disaster.
South Alabama extended its lead to 6-1 in the fifth inning on a three-run homer by Swaggerty that cleared the center field wall.
“We only had a two-run lead so in that situation I wanted to drive the ball to the outfield and hit a mistake,” Swaggerty said. “I fell behind in the count 1-2 but I was still battling trying to find something I could drive. I got a changeup middle away and I sat on it.
“I guess I drove it.”
Going the distance
South Alabama’s Randy Bell put in a gutty complete game performance. Mississippi State had runners in scoring position in four innings but only came away with three runs courtesy of sacrifice flies by Hunter Stovall and Hunter Vansau, and an RBI-triple by former Biloxi standout Cody Brown.
Bell ended up scattering six hits and two walks while striking out three on 132 pitches.
“Randy just had to make pitches. He didn’t have to be anything he’s not,” Calvi said. “He didn’t need to throw 93, 94 because that’s not who he is.
“He just needed to be a really good version of himself and that’s what he was.”