HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Fifty wins, all the awards, a regular season Conference USA title, going 25-5 in the league, 14-1 on the road," said Southern Miss head coach Scott Berry. "There were a lot of moments that will be hard to duplicate."
Two weeks after USM fell to Mississippi State in the Hattiesburg Regional, Southern Miss coach Scott Berry took a moment to look back on the Golden Eagles' 2017 campaign. A school-record 50 wins and the first NCAA regional hosted in Hattiesburg since 2003 seemed to have USM on path to its second College World Series in program history.
Yet, as Berry witnessed during his coaching days at Meridian Community College (1997-2000), even the best teams can fall victim to baseball's unpredictable nature.
"Well, it was 1997," Berry recalled. "It was a very good team. It was number one in the nation from the first poll to the last poll. We started out 25-0. But going into the district play to see who went to the World Series we were 50-4. Where we lost two one-run games, things just did not go our way, just like this team this year. As good as we played, there's no guarantees that you'll play another day. So, I think that's what kind of puts things in perspective."
The following season, Berry took Meridian to its first Junior College World Series. A few years later, he would join coach Corky Palmer at Southern Miss and eventually take over the head coaching job in 2010.
It wasn't long after USM's season-ending loss to Mississippi State that Berry heard from Palmer, the former Eagle coach.
"[Palmer] reiterated the year that we had that had never been done here before at Southern Miss," Berry said. "It was good to hear it from the old wizard who's been around the block a few times. We, as coaches, we like to say that's baseball. And that's basically what he told me: 'That's baseball.' "
No doubt, Southern Miss would prefer to be in Omaha right now but what the Golden Eagles achieved this season can certainly be appreciated.
"What all encompassed this team was the friendships, the brotherhood that each person had for one another," Berry said. "I can only put nine guys on that lineup card, or ten with a [designated hitter], every game. You've got 25 guys sitting there that wished they were on there but they have to understand the role that they have to play. And that's what was so incredible about this year's team."
Berry could have just as tough of a time filling out that lineup card in 2018.
USM senior and 2017 Conference USA player of the year Dylan Burdeaux leaves Hattiesburg after being drafted by the Detroit Tigers. Juniors Taylor Braley, Kirk McCarty and Hayden Roberts were selected in the MLB Draft and have until July 15 to decide whether or not to sign professional contracts.
The Golden Eagles return eight freshmen and nine sophomores including NCBWA's freshman hitter of the year Matt Wallner and NCBWA All-American pitcher Nick Sandlin. Jones County Junior College transfers Erick Hoard, Fred Franklin and Mason Strickland (South Jones) are also set to join USM in 2018.
"Certainly, the personnel that we have coming back, the personnel that we're bringing in, it's exciting to think about Southern Miss baseball in 2018," Berry said.