Last season, Christian Talley posted a 4-4 record and had the second lowest ERA on the team last year at 2.67. -courtesy photo
The Golden Eagles made it all the way to the Conference USA championship game with a chance to make it to Regionals last season, but lost 7-0 to UTSA in the final game of the tournament, failing to qualify for further play.
But Southern Miss hopes it has learned from the experience and believes to be more prepared to win on the big stage. However, the Golden Eagles lost a ton of pitching through graduation and the MLB Draft.
Christian Talley will be called upon to be the staff ace as the Friday starter and has the makeup to be successful as the leader of the rotation. Talley posted a 4-4 record last season, but pitched much better than his record suggests. He had the second lowest ERA on the team last year at 2.67 and had a mind-boggling 5.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“I’m very confident,” said head coach Scott Berry when asked about Talley as the ace. “Christian isn’t just a thrower, he’s a pitcher. He’s got a great mix of his pitches. He’s confident with any of those pitches in any count so when you have that kind of person on the mound, you got to have confidence behind him.”
“He’s a strike thrower, threw very well in a tough league in junior college last year. For a lot of people, that’s a major adjustment for them, but he adjusted quickly,” he said.
Cody Carroll is going to be the No. 2 guy in the rotation as the Saturday starter. He struggled with his command last season as he walked 19 and hit seven batters in 49.2 innings en route to a 3.99 ERA.
“(I want) to cut down on the walks, go deeper into games and limit the freebies—walks, hit by pitches and command my breaking ball more,” Carroll said.
He has made adjustments to his mechanics over the offseason and believes it will make a big difference in his control to limit the freebies.
“Out of the windup, I made it a little more simple. Instead of a big rocky step, it’s more of a tight step that limits all the movement in between until I throw a pitch,” Carroll said.
James McMahon will fill out the weekend rotation as the No. 3 starter. He struggled mightily last season with a 6.97 ERA in 10.1 innings, but Berry believes that the struggles had more to do with McMahon not going through a routine like a starter would rather than his ability.
“James is one of the hardest guys to hit against,” said outfielder Dylan Burdeaux. “He can do a lot of things for you. He can bust you in then go away with his off-speed pitches. He’s looked really good facing our own batters and hopefully he can step up and be that third guy for us and have a big year.”
Last season, Bradley Roney was as dependable as they come as a closer with 1.24 ERA and 12 saves, but he graduated and was drafted in the eighth round by the Atlanta Braves. Instead of having that go-to-guy as the closer, Berry will rely on a pair of pitchers to close out games.
“Late in the game here early on, two gentlemen will split time at that,” Berry said. “I don’t think we have just one guy like Bradley that we just say ‘hey, here’s the ball, go get it.’ We’ll use senior Ryan Milton as well as freshman Taylor Braley.”
“Braley has that competitiveness that everyone that’s from the Hattiesburg area has seen that young man compete both on the baseball field and on the football field,” Berry said. “He’s not afraid of anything. That’s what I like about him there at the end of the game and he has the stuff to go with it.”
Offensively, it all starts with incumbent leadoff man and senior Connor Barron. He garnered some prestigious awards in the offseason as the Texas Collegiate League MVP and was ranked as the eighth best senior in the nation by Perfect Game.
“He had a tremendous summer,” Berry said. “He was the MVP of the Texas Collegiate League. (He) has developed into a really fine leader for this club. This is his fourth year; it isn’t (his) first rodeo. He’s our guy. He’s our sparkplug.”
Last season, Matt Durst started the season as the everyday catcher, but after he returned from an injury, he became the everyday DH as Austin Roussel was the starter behind the dish. However, after a strong fall, Chuckie Robinson beat them both out and will get the nod as the starting catcher.
Durst will remain as the DH as he is too valuable at the plate to leave out the lineup. He led the Golden Eagles in batting average, home runs and RBIs last season and will remain as the cleanup hitter in the lineup.
Much of the infield will remain the same as Tim Lynch (first base), Nick Dawson (second base) and Michael Sterling (shortstop) all return as starters. Roney also served as the starter at third base last season, but Chase Scott will be the guy manning the hot corner this season.
“Chase is a tough-nose, JUCO kid from Chipola (College), who has not only made the routine play (defensively), but has made the great play,” Berry said. “He’s not afraid to dive, to get dirty, those are the kind of things you got to have at that corner.”
In the outfield, Burdeaux will be in right field, Barron will be in center field and Breck Kline and Ryan Ellis will platoon in left field based upon who the opposing starter is.
“(Kline) is going to split time with Ryan Ellis,” Berry said. “Ryan is a left-handed hitter who has really played well this past fall and spring. We planned to redshirt him (last season), but due to injuries, we had to pull that redshirt off.”
Burdeaux is coming off a huge freshman season as he was named to the All-Conference freshman team, hitting .266 with three home runs and 24 RBIs. USM is counting on him to continue his production in his sophomore season.
“I’m a right-handed bat that they expect to drive in runs, somewhere in the middle of the lineup. When we get our speed guys on, I have to be able to get them over and get them in,” Berry said.
A big problem for USM over the past few seasons has been coming out of the gate strong. Too often, the Golden Eagles have started slow and picked up their play right before the conference schedule started. It could pay huge dividends to win a lot of games early in the season in their quest to make it back to the Regionals.
“We have to come out strong and win games early because plays big into the later of the season,” Barron said. “I just want to win. That’s who I am. I want to take take this team back to the Regionals. That’s all I really want to do.”
There are some questions that need to be answered, mainly with the pitching staff, but there is no denying that USM has all the pieces to get into and potentially past the Regionals.