Southern Miss baseball could see 9 of 10 starters return next season

David Eckert
Hattiesburg American

HATTIESBURG — For baseball coaches like Southern Miss' Scott Berry across the country, linear progression from season to season is a frequent target that's rarely hit. 

Stars graduate. Contributors transfer. Assistants depart. Turnover is to college sports what laughter is to comedy. It's fundamental. 

But, remarkably, the Golden Eagles are once again in a position to largely dance around it. Nine of the 10 Southern Miss starters in last season's Oxford regional final were present on Sunday, when Ole Miss once again ended USM's season – this time in the super regionals. 

If things break right for Southern Miss this offseason, the Golden Eagles could repeat that feat. Nine of the 10 players who started Sunday's season finale are eligible to return. 

That linear progression target? Maybe it's not so far in the distance. 

"We're excited about the guys who come back," Berry said. "They took the step from last year to the next step. That was the challenge at the end out there. I told them it's time to take that next step, and that's to Omaha."

Highlights:Ole Miss vs. Southern Miss baseball video highlights, score in Sunday's super regional game

Final word:Why Southern Miss baseball's outstanding season came to an end vs. Ole Miss

Grand slam controversy:What Southern Miss, Ole Miss baseball fans said about super regional grand slam that wasn't

There are three certain departures this offseason, Berry said. 

The only bat Southern Miss will certainly lose belongs to Gabe Montenegro, the beloved center fielder's eligibility exhausted after six years in Hattiesburg. Similarly, Saturday starter Hunter Riggins' college career came to a close after he posted a 2.59 ERA in 16 starts. 

Relief pitcher Drew Boyd will also move on, Berry said Sunday, despite owning one more season of eligibility. The lefty pitched to a 3.38 ERA this season. 

"Outside of that, we return everybody coming back, just like we did last year," Berry said. "We'll be calling next year a COVID team, basically, because of the extra year." 

There are 20 players set to return for 2023 who will be eligible for the MLB Draft , which begins on July 17. 

Crucially, neither of Southern Miss' outstanding young starters are draft eligible this summer, with Tanner Hall and Hurston Waldrep both falling short of the 21-year age benchmark for underclassmen. 

Berry did say he expects some interest in other hurlers, though. 

"I would assume the draft is probably going to entertain some guys on the mound, so it's going to be interesting to see what happens there," Berry said. "We feel good about it right now. Obviously, if that's the best thing for those young men then I'll be very supportive of it, as I always have."  

Several of USM's better bullpen pieces are draft-eligible, including Dalton Rogers, whose 1.95 ERA was the best on the team among those who pitched at least 10 innings. 

Garrett Ramsey (2.61 ERA), Landon Harper (3.30), Tyler Stuart (3.38) and Isaiah Rhodes (4.15) are some of the other eligible arms. 

The transfer portal remains both an asset and a threat to programs around the country, too, but Southern Miss should have its core back for 2023. Linear progression for that group – with another season of experience to lean on – would mean a trip to the College World Series. 

"Every year's a learning experience that moves you forward to the next one and makes you better," Berry said. "We talk a lot about failing. You learn from failure more than you do from winning, in all honesty, if you know how to go about it." 

Reach Southern Miss writer David Eckert at deckert@gannett.com or on Twitter @davideckert98