Preseason Top 25 Capsules: No. 21 Southern Miss
2017 Record: 50-16 (25-5 in Conference USA); reached regional final. Final ranking: No. 16 Coach (Record at school): Scott Berry (299-173-1, eight years). Top 200 2018 Draft Prospects: None.
The good news: Southern Miss is coming off its best season since it advanced to the 2009 College World Series and under coach Scott Berry has established itself as one of Conference USA’s powerhouses. Freshman of the Year Matt Wallner returns, ready to build on his fantastic start to his college career. And while the Golden Eagles lost some key pieces from last year’s team, they remain a veteran bunch. Nearly every player expected to play a significant role for Southern Miss this spring saw plenty of action for last year’s team.
The bad news: While many starters return, Southern Miss lost some of its biggest stars. Third baseman/righthander Taylor Braley was an All-American two-way player last year and will be difficult to replace. He and first baseman Dylan Burdeaux combined for 29 home runs and 130 RBIs that the Golden Eagles will now have to replace in the lineup. Third baseman Luke Reynolds is eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from Mississippi State and has the ability to hit in the middle of the lineup if he can quickly get back up to game speed. Braley, lefthander Kirk McCarty and righthander Hayden Roberts were Southern Miss’ top three pitchers by innings last year, leaving 255 innings that now need to be covered. None of them are top prospects, but they were all proven college winners.
Returner to know: Colt Smith, RHP: Smith in 2017 had a strong first season at Southern Miss after transferring from Northwest (Miss.) JC. He moved into the rotation in the second half of the season and pitched well, finishing his junior year 6-2, 3.36 with 43 strikeouts and 17 walks in 67 innings. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he creates a lot of groundouts and has the experience and savvy to pitch on Friday nights for the Golden Eagles.
Path to Omaha: Southern Miss ran away with CUSA last season and hosted a regional for the second time in program history before its dream season was ended by Brent Rooker and Mississippi State. Repeating that regular season success is unlikely, but with a veteran team, one of the most reliable closers in the country in Nick Sandlin and Wallner’s star power, the Golden Eagles will be a tough out in the postseason. If Smith and righthander J.C. Keys step up to lead the rotation, Southern Miss doesn’t have to take a step back.
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C Cole Donaldson, Jr. .256/.345/.333 | 156 AB | 2 HR | 19 RBI
1B Hunter Slater, Jr. .312/.446/.477 | 218 AB | 4 HR | 39 RBI
2B Storme Cooper, Jr. .255/.423/.372 | 94 | 3 HR | 21 RBi
3B Luke Reynolds, Jr. Did not play – Transfer
SS LeeMarcus Boyd, Sr. .289/.345/.434 | 235 AB | 4 HR | 42 RBI
LF Mason Irby, Sr. .338/.433/.449 | 263 AB | 1 HR | 40 RBI
CF Daniel Keating, Sr. .261/.368/.522 | 161 AB | 11 HR | 31 RBI
RF Matt Wallner, So. .336/.463/.655 | 235 AB | 19 HR | 63 RBI
DH Erik Hoard, Jr. Transfer – Jones County (Miss.) JC
RHP Colt Smith, Sr. 6-2, 3.36 ERA | 67 IP | 43 SO | 0 SV
RHP J.C. Keys, Jr. 3-3, 5.56 ERA | 55 IP | 48 SO | 0 SV
LHP Stevie Powers, Jr. 3-0, 5.13 ERA | 33 IP | 24 SO | 2 SV
RP Nick Sandlin, Jr. 10-2, 2.38 ERA | 57 IP | 80 SO | 8 SV
RP Matt Wallner, So. 2-0, 1.84 ERA | 15 IP | 15 SO | 3 SV