Journal class

Southern Miss baseball reaps the rewards of a record season

The Southeastern Conference has long cast a huge shadow over the sports world in these regions in any given season. But consider this: In college baseball this season, Mississippi State became the defending national champion. Ole Miss was ranked No. 1 early in the season. It’s not a shadow, it’s more of a blackout.

And that’s nothing new for Southern Miss, who has long struggled for attention in her own state, even playing quality baseball season after season after season.

Given that, here’s a bit of what many may not know…

Did you know this spring marks the sixth straight season the Golden Eagles have won at least 40 games or more? It’s true. Southern Miss is one of only two Division I teams in the nation to have won at least 40 games in six straight seasons (Dallas Baptist is the other).

And did you know that this season, Scott Berry became the winningest coach in school baseball history? He did. When the Eagles beat UAB on May 1, it was Berry’s 469th win as head coach in just his 12th full season. You can do the math, but it’s really close to 40 par wins. And consider this: Berry’s three predecessors — Pete Taylor, Hill Denson and Corky Palmer — were all inductees into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Note to MSHOF Selection Committee: Save a spot for Berry, a nice guy who never finishes near the bottom spot.

Did you know that Southern Miss finished the regular season with a 41-14 record, including a sparkling 23-7 record in Conference USA, the nation’s fifth-highest rated baseball league? The Eagles did it, finishing three games without a second-place finish from Louisiana Tech, another terrific college baseball program struggling for attention in its own state.

Did you know that in Berry’s 12 seasons, Southern Miss has fought in-state rivals Ole Miss and Mississippi State roughly evenly – 12-10 to Ole Miss, 8-12 to State?

Did you know that Southern Miss pitchers rank second in the nation (after Tennessee) in ERA, allowing just over three ERAs per nine innings?

Did you know the Golden Eagle pitchers rank second (behind Florida State) in the nation in strikeouts with 623? It’s 11.3 per nine innings if you keep score.

Did you know that the second-year Southern Miss Tanner Hall right-hander, who won the Boo Ferriss Trophy on Monday, finished the regular season with 120 strikeouts and just 10 walks? He did and those numbers are insane – second best in the country. The last pitcher to win the Boo was Golden Eagle Nick Sandlin in 2018. He now pitches for the Cleveland Indians.

Did you know the Southern Miss pitchers rank second in the nation (again, behind Tennessee) in strikeouts-to-base ratio, finishing just 0.03 percentage points behind the Vols? (Yes, pitching coach and associate head coach Christian Ostrander deserves huge credit for all those incredible pitching numbers.)

Did you know that Southern Miss had won a school-record 15 straight games before left-handed hitters Reece Ewing and Slade Wilkes (the No. 3 and No. 5 hitters on the roster) suffered injuries that caused them to miss the weather? Did you know that in games played by Ewing this season, Southern Miss was an even more impressive 37-9?

Did you know Southern Miss broke attendance records at Pete Taylor Park this season, breaking the season ticket sales record by nearly 1,000 and averaging 4,771 per game? It was 10th in the nation and No. 1 among five non-power conference teams.

Strange as it may seem, Berry’s Southern Miss program has earned more respect nationally than in her home country. It’s true. The Golden Eagles reached 4th nationally before Ewing and Wilkes were injured. DI Baseball currently ranks the Golden Eagles 14th in the nation. Respected national publications have all predicted that Southern Miss will host an NCAA region with a No. 9 national seed.

It’s all of these reasons why Berry’s ball club this spring emerged, at least briefly, from the shadow cast by the SEC. It remains to be seen how far these Eagles can fly. Next up: the CUSA tournament, which the top-seeded Eagles will host starting Wednesday at Pete Taylor Park.

No predictions here other than when it comes to NCAA Tournament baseball, teams with the deepest pitching teams normally have a distinct advantage. Southern Miss has the deepest pitching staff in school history. In this case, the numbers don’t lie.

— Article credit to Rick Cleveland of Mississippi Today —