Will Southern Miss win the 2023 College World Series? High expectations remain despite a new-look team
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Opening day for the 2023 college baseball season is right around the corner. And for the University of Southern Mississippi head coach Scott Berry, he and his Golden Eagles have their eyes set on building off of last year’s historic season.
College baseball in Mississippi has been the supreme hub of high-level baseball in the country, specifically the past few years with Mississippi State and Ole Miss winning the NCAA College World Series in 2021 and 2022.
Now, many Mississippians are saying it’s the Golden Eagles’ turn to bring the national championship trophy to Hattiesburg.
There is an abundance of talent in the Southern Miss program that will look to return to Omaha for the first time since 2009. Coach Berry says the outside talk won’t affect his program and that the internal expectations are integrated.
“I think the expectation here is [to win it] every year, and it is with each program in the state [of Mississippi],” Coach Berry said. “I’m proud of that. I’m proud that [Mississippi] State won it two years ago. Ole Miss won it last year. Yeah, it’d be great for us to be the one’s to win it this year. That’s certainly our goal and everyone else’s goal. There’s programs out there that want expectations. Ours has been there for some time, and pressure is sometimes a good thing, because that means you’re pretty good.”
Southern Miss baseball hosted their first NCAA Super Regional in program history in the 2022 season, losing out to the eventual College World Series champions.
There will be new challenges though for the Golden Eagles in the 2023 season, including a change of conference and an influx of new, talented faces.
Southern Miss will participate as members of the Sun Belt Conference for the first time on the diamond.
The Golden Eagles have dominated while being affiliated in the Conference USA from 1996 to 2021; particularly since 2016, compiling the most wins, regular season titles, conference tournament titles, and regional wins.
Close one chapter (@ConferenceUSA), open a new one (@SunBelt).— Southern Miss Baseball (@SouthernMissBSB) February 6, 2023
Since 2016 in C-USA -
Wins - USM 133, FAU 117, LA Tech 116
Regular Season Titles - USM 3, FAU 2, Charlotte 1
Tournament Titles - USM 3, ODU 1, Rice 1, LA Tech 1
Regional Crowns - USM 1#EverythingMatters | #SMTTT pic.twitter.com/VyCGEvG6TQ
The Golden Eagles will look to replicate that success over in the Sun Belt, and Coach Berry says that his approach won’t change as he is looking forward to facing new conference foes.
“I don’t think our game plan will be any different going from C-USA to the Sun Belt. Both are very good baseball leagues year-end and year-out,” Coach Berry said. “Nothing changes. We prepare for each game and how to win each game, not necessarily the opponent or conference. But we’re looking forward to the challenges, with many of the [Sun Belt] teams close by, such as South Alabama, Troy, [Louisiana] Monroe, and Louisiana [Ragin’ Cajuns]. “We’re anxious to get going and seeing what their programs are all about.”
Southern Miss was picked to finish first place in the Sun Belt in the conference’s preseason poll Wednesday despite not yet competing in the conference.
Coach Berry lost a handful of pitchers to the MLB draft and starting pitcher Hurston Waldrep via the transfer portal entering the news season.
“As a staff, it’s a completely different look then what we had last year from depth and quality that we saw at the end of the year,” the Southern Miss head coach said. “[It was] probably the best staff I have ever been associated with in 39 years of college coaching. But we move to a new team... and it gives guys a new opportunity and it’s our job to piece things together to make things work. It will be a totally different look... but we do feel like we have the people, and we just have to put them in the right places.”
However, a familiar face for Southern Miss - 2022 All-American pitcher and Ferris Trophy winner Tanner Hall - will return to the mound, as well as a class of highly-rated players set to take important roles in front of the rowdy, supportive Southern Miss fans at Pete Taylor Park for their first time.
“What a great story for [Tanner]. He’s a young man that saw a lot of time for us in the bullpen his first year and transitioned to a starter last year,” Coach Berry explained. “He is one of the best in the country. He is back and he anchors down our weekend staff. He’s our leader and our guy that leads things for us on Fridays in the weekend series.”
“[Matthew] Etzel was the number one rated junior college transfer in the country and has had a tremendous fall camp for us and continues to excel this spring as we move forward to opening day,” Coach Berry said. “We’ve had some young guys that have really impressed us as well.”
Coach Berry named two freshman pitchers, both Mississippi natives, that he will expect to have an impact on the mound after a strong preseason performance.
“JB Middleton, a right handed pitcher, and Nick Monistere. Both of those guys will help us on the mound,” Coach Berry said. “Those are much-needed guys in our program that need to step up in the absence of what we lost.
“With that, there will probably be some growing pains because of the adjustment to the new level and coming to a park with 5,000-plus people every game,” the Southern Miss head coach continued. “Hopefully they will grow from it and grow quickly, and we’ll be better for it.”
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