JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - University of North Florida pitcher Jacob Dixon had hoped to go seven innings Thursday to give his relievers a rest. They ended up having the whole night off.
Unable to find an offensive rhythm, the Ospreys relied instead on Dixon's surgically repaired right arm to pull out a 3-1 complete-game win over USC Aiken in the opening round of the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional.
A crowd of 550 fans at Harmon Stadium watched as Dixon (6-3) struck out five batters and allowed only four hits in a pitching duel that lasted just under two hours. He flustered the fourth-seeded Pacers with his inside fastball and left them swinging at his curveball.
"We were just totally out of control at the plate," USC Aiken coach Kenny Thomas said. "We were swinging at balls chin-high and ankle-high."
Coming into the regional, North Florida coach Dusty Rhodes knew he needed to save his battered pitching staff if the top-seeded Ospreys (42-14) had any hope of advancing to the NCAA Division II College World Series.
Dixon gave them that luxury.
The Pacers (39-17) entered Thursday as the top hitting team in the Peach Belt Conference with a .331 average. But they were unable to produce much offense against Dixon.
The junior established his dominance early on, and gave up his only run in the top of the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly. It was all the Ospreys needed to advance to the winner's bracket, where they will face second-seed Kennesaw State (36-20) at 3 p.m. today.
"My goal into the game was getting at least seven. If I could throw nine, then that's great," said Dixon, who was forced to miss last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
"It helps where we didn't have to use anybody out of the bullpen, and we got them for the rest of the time here (in the regional)."
After losing his first three starts of the season and watching his ERA balloon to 12.79, Dixon has won six of his past eight starts. It was also his team-high fourth complete game of the season.
North Florida struggled offensively, managing only five hits. But the Ospreys took advantage of several early mistakes by the Pacers to take a 3-0 lead.
All three of North Florida's runs came in the bottom of the second, when Josh Howard's hit was booted by USC Aiken left fielder Brandon Barenie and then catcher Robert Davis couldn't hold onto the ball at home plate.
USC Aiken, which lost despite getting eight innings of work from pitcher Steve Dunham (7-4), plays Francis Marion (34-15-1) at 11 a.m. today in an elimination game.
With Thursday night's 3-1 loss, USC Aiken drops into the loser's bracket of the South Atlantic Regional.The Pacers play Peach Belt Conference foe Francis Marion at 11 this morning, with the loser being eliminated from the tournament.