A look back: 2003 USM baseball regional

A look back: 2003 USM baseball regional

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Before the 2017 Golden Eagles, there was the 2003 Southern Miss baseball team which hosted the program's first NCAA regional.

"There was definitely a buzz going around and it was something that we hadn't experienced before," said former Southern Miss infielder Marc Maddox.

"A lot of good memories from my five years at Southern but that [regional] weekend is the top," said former Southern Miss pitcher Cliff Russum.

"It was the highlight of our player's lives and me and the coach's lives," said former Southern Miss head baseball coach Corky Palmer. "It was a special year."

The 2003 Eagles won the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles en route to a then-school-record 47 wins. The 2017 USM team set the new single-season win mark (48) with its victory over Charlotte in the C-USA tournament.

"The 2003 team was gritty," Cook said. "Lots of talent, lots of young talent."

"Jeff Cook was the only starting senior in the field so he provided a lot of leadership," said former Southern Miss outfielder Jason Lowery. "Just a great team. I remember him and Clint King in the outfield, the bash brothers. I think they hit 23 bombs a piece that year."

King and Cook were named All-Americans in 2003 after tying the Southern Miss record with 23 home runs, respectively. Maddox earned freshman All-America honors while Palmer was named the C-USA coach of the year.

"I coached all them years at Southern [Miss] and we went to the [College World] Series in [2009]," Palmer said. "We got hot at the right time but the '03 team was the most talented team I ever coached."

Although they are separated by 14 years, the 2003 Golden Eagles acknowledge some similarities between themselves and the 2017 USM ball club.

"The chemistry of that [2003] team just didn't know how to lose," Cook said. "And just wouldn't accept losing, very similar to this team."

"We had a guy Jeff Cook who could do anything," Palmer said. "He's kind of like [USM junior Taylor] Braley. Silent leader, led by example. We had Matt Shepherd who was the fire of our team. [USM senior] Dylan Burdeaux's the fire here. The only two teams to host a regional is the '03 team and this [2017] team so both teams are special.

Southern Miss opened the 2003 regional with a 5-3 loss to Southern (Baton Rouge). The Golden Eagles rallied for two wins over Murray State and Southern on the following day before falling to Baylor 3-2 in a season-ending loss.

The 2017 Eagles are proud to be the second team in USM history to host an NCAA regional but they'd also like to be the second team to advance to the College World Series.

"I remember back in '03, honestly, it was almost like we were just happy to being there because we'd never been there before," said Southern Miss head coach Scott Berry, an assistant on the 2003 team. "Certainly, that was a great time and that was kind of the foundation-builder for what we're seeing now."

"Obviously, you're hoping [USM] plays beyond this weekend," Russum said. "But I'm telling you, it's going to be something these guys never forget for the rest of their lives."