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The voice of and for USM students

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The voice of and for USM students

SM2

Southern Miss Baseball’s New-Look Team Shines in Fall Scrimmage: What to Expect in the 2024 Season

Southern+Miss+Baseballs+New-Look+Team+Shines+in+Fall+Scrimmage%3A+What+to+Expect+in+the+2024+Season
Dima Mixon

Southern Miss baseball hosted open fall scrimmages this past Saturday, showcasing its new-look team and what fans can look forward to this season. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the scrimmage and how this team looks heading into the 2024 season. Here are some main takeaways from this weekend:

There are still familiar faces.
Although the Golden Eagle Baseball team lost many familiar faces over the offseason to graduation and the draft, Southern Miss still has some familiar faces. Slade Wilks, Carson Paetow, and Nick Monistere are the only starters from last year who will be in the starting lineup and batting order. Surprisingly, that trio was playing outfield. Monistere moved from second base to center field, where he shined, making a Paetow-esque diving catch where his glove was on the ground when the ball landed in it.

“He’s [Monistere] unreal,” Paetow said. “He’s just… he’s unreal. He’s gonna be really good. It was big time for him because he’s had to make the transition from infield to outfield, so for him to be able to make that athletic play with hardly any practice is just unbelievable.”

Wilks was moved from his DH position to left field, and he has an absolute cannon of an arm. Wilks was grateful for his past position but excited to show off his full range of talents to the Golden Eagle faithful when talking about that transition.

“I’ve really worked hard on especially outfield,” Wilks said. “I’ve DH’d the last two years, and that’s been great. We’ve had good outfielders, but I really wanna play outfield this year, and so obviously keeping things working smooth with my swing, but really trying to get better in the outfield for sure.”

Paetow remained at right field, and he batted not only in the leadoff spot but also hit an absolute bomb over the “L” in Pete Taylor Park on the centerfield wall at the first pitch of the bottom of the first. Paetow also caught a flyout near the warning track and threw it so hard and fast to home that the runner who tagged turned around and ran back to third base.

Paetow and Wilks are the only two true veterans in terms of position players, and the leaders of last year are either in the big leagues, graduated, or on the coaching staff, so they have both had to grow into that leadership role.

“Definitely had to mature a little bit, but I kinda learned some stuff from Danny,” Paetow said. “There’s a lot of leaders on this team, old and young. Just showing the young guys on this team how we do things around here, and hopefully turn them into leaders one day.”
Wilks reiterated the same sentiment, wanting to be a leader to show the younger players on the team how to achieve the success they have had over the past two seasons.

“It’s definitely a role that me and him are both ready for,” Wilks said. “We’ve been on some really good teams and have a lot of experience at this point. We have some really good players, and we’re just looking forward to helping them get used to that experience as well.”

The man behind the plate is ready for it.
Graham Crawford is stepping into not one but two massive pairs of shoes, trying to fill the void left by both Blake Johnson and Rodrigo Montenegro at the catcher position. He was on the team last year but rarely saw action as he had just transferred, and the Golden Eagles already had two phenomenal catchers.

“You know those two are some of the best catchers I’ve ever been around,” Crawford said. “They’re both very good at different things, and that’s what helped us last year. I mean early in the year, Blake was a stud behind the plate and at the end of the year, Poch hit .400. There’s not many guys in college baseball that can do that.”

Crawford mentioned a straightforward thing that sets him apart from Johnson and Montenegro.

“Well, I’m from here,” Crawford continued. “I’ve been a Golden Eagle fan. I remember coming to the games when I was ten years old. That, and I have seen it. I’ve been around baseball for a very long time… College baseball has been around for the last five years, and I’ve been in it.”

Crawford further discussed what it means to be not only playing in The Pete but to play in a position and be “the guy” for that position in front of a crowd he spent the majority of his life part of; he reflected on how thankful he is to be in this position.

“It is an honor,” Crawford stated. “I can’t put it into words how excited I am for this season. Coming off the last two years, everybody’s expecting a lot, and we expect the exact same thing. We don’t take breaks here.”

Danny Lynch is Still Around
Last year, many fans were upset because, after many years, a Lynch would no longer be in the program. However, near the end of the season, it was announced that Danny Lynch would be taking a Graduate Assistant position on the Southern Miss baseball staff. Lynch umpired at the scrimmage and had a great report with the entire team.

“It’s a little weird,” Lynch said. “It’s definitely a little weird not being able to play in the intersquad, stuff like that, but I’m liking it so far. I mean, I’ve always had a good relationship with the coaches, so that stuff has come easy, that side of it, but I’m liking it a lot so far.”

Lynch talked about his challenge, holding down his constant presence and encouragement on the field that he has always had and letting the leaders on the team have their moment.

“I think the biggest adjustment I have to make is letting the older guys on the team do their thing,” Lynch said.

Lynch is handing over the reins, so to speak, regarding who will encourage the players in between pitches. But that’s just on the field; expect to hear him from the dugout because he was doing so behind the plate, too.

“I love this program,” Lynch continued. “This program did so much for me. I wanna give something back to it; this is a good way to do it.”

Lynch laughed, turned on his coach mode, and replied with a simple no when asked about visiting potential property in Louisiana after last season.

“Nope,” Lynch added. “Have not, have not.”

New Coach, New Players, Same Passion
Head coach Christian Ostrander touched on what impressed him about the scrimmage, who he thought would become fan favorites once the season starts, and finally, how he feels about the roster after losing so many this off season.

“We kinda knew it, knew it was coming, through graduation and the draft, and we did our best to prepare for it, and we really like the pieces that we have out here,” Ostrander said. “It’s been a really fun group to come out here with every day.”

A fun group it has been. At Saturday’s scrimmage alone, the players encouraged one another, cracking jokes and talking like brothers would, no matter their jersey color.Wilks hit what would have been a missile of a home run, but it was wide right, and the crowd gasped. Wilks smiled, and the redshirt freshman pitcher, Jake Cook, replied before pitching, “that was still a strike, Slade,” which garnered laughter out of the dugouts and stands alike.

Ostrander liked what he saw from his team but took what some would misconstrue as a pragmatic approach. However, he enjoyed the fall camp process, looking forward to seeing who would be the best fit for what position.

“You know these guys are competing hard, and we’re just kinda letting them play and watching them and seeing who fits where,” Ostrander said. “It’s like a puzzle, you just gotta put the pieces together.”

Putting together that puzzle is one thing, but making sure it’s a pretty enough picture to please the eyes of Southern Miss fans is another challenge in and of itself. In the last two years, Southern Miss has hosted Super Regionals. There were two wins shy of Omaha in 2022 and one win shy this past June. While some fans may see this as a rebuild or that Golden Eagle baseball will take a step back, no one on this team has that attitude.

“These guys are competing hard, and they know what this place means, and they know their responsibility,” Ostrander said. “Yeah there’s gonna be new faces scattered out there, but we feel like they’ll be ready to play when that time comes in February.”

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