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2024 Southern Miss baseball preview: Golden Eagles enter new era in 2024

Christian+Ostrander+walks+off+the+field+following+Southern+Miss+winning+the+2023+Sun+Belt+Baseball+Championship.+
Dima Mixon
Christian Ostrander walks off the field following Southern Miss winning the 2023 Sun Belt Baseball Championship.

The 2024 Southern Miss baseball season has finally arrived, and with it, another year of baseball coverage from SM2. This season embarks the Southern Miss program into a brand new era of baseball. There is no Scott Berry, Dustin Dickerson, Tanner Hall or many other players fans have grown accustomed to seeing on a given weekend in the Spring.

This year, there are many questions, with very few sure answers. Throughout this extensively detailed preview, our sports staff tries to answer some of those questions for the fanbase. Anywhere from how will first-year head coach Christian Ostrander make the program his own to who will start at third base.

This preview (attempts) to answer it all, enjoy:

In Ostrander’s first year, he has significant shoes to fill and equally as high expectations – by Dima Mixon

Christian Ostrander opens up the 2024 baseball season at baseball media day. (Sean Smith)

 Southern Miss fans are used to tuning into John Cox’s radio show before a baseball game, hearing former head coach Scott Berry’s voice previewing the opponent all before more likely than not earning himself another win and cementing his legacy even more.

Berry’s presence is still a part of the program, as he has appeared at several practices and fall scrimmages. He has made a few appearances with the team at the respective lunches and other events in which the team has always been involved throughout his 14 seasons as the head guy.

However, he is not the head guy anymore; head coach Christian Ostrander is the guy with the keys to the future success of the Southern Miss baseball program. Ostrander knows that he has significant shoes to fill, but he has always touted the incredible honor of leading a program like Southern Miss baseball.

“It’s a dream come true,” Ostrander said at the team’s media day. “You work your whole career to have an opportunity to lead a program like this. They don’t just hand these out, so I don’t take it for granted.”

Ostrander was officially announced as the school’s 14th baseball coach on June 27, 2023. Ostrander is just the fifth Southern Miss baseball coach since 1959, following Pete Taylor (1959-83), Hill Denson (1984-1997), Corky Palmer (1998-2009), and Scott Berry (2010-2023).

However, Ostrander is not worried about following those coaches’ steps. He is not worried about trying to be the next Berry or Palmer or even a Denson; he is just worried about how to be himself. That is his next step.

Ostrander has served as the Associate Head Coach under Berry for the past six seasons. He has turned down several jobs at more prominent schools because of his loyalty and love for this place.

“I am being me,” Ostrander said. “I am being who I am. My identity as a coach is the same thing, I have been trying to do out there the last six years.”

Several players have expressed their opinions on how differently Ostrander has led the program since he took the reins in the summer.

Senior Captain Slade Wilks said he had not seen much change other than the fact that Ostrander might be “fierier” than Berry was.

On top of the shoes he follows, Ostrander also takes on a program with a prestigious reputation in the College Baseball world. With that comes a plethora of expectations.

This program is coming off two straight trips to the NCAA Super Regionals and a team that has made the NCAA tournament seven straight seasons. Moreover, it boasts the nation’s longest 40-win season streak (7).

Ostrander looks to start making his own prestige and stamp his own name in Southern Miss baseball history, more than he already has as the pitching coach.

“There’s not going to be another coach Scott Berry,” Ostrander said. “There’s only one me too. And that’s not arrogance, that’s not ego or anything. You have got to be genuine; you’ve got to be who you are.”

Will the transfer portal pay off for Southern Miss Baseball in 2024? – by Jackson Kennedy

Dima Mixon

The transfer portal has been the talk of college athletics these last few years. One of the main points on the topic is that schools with more money will poach players from smaller schools that recruiters originally missed out on or overlooked. Players from Southern Miss like Jason Brownlee, Frank Gore Jr., and Tanner Hall became superstars wearing the Black and Gold, and there were worries each offseason that these players would move to a bigger school with more resources than those in Hattiesburg.
First-year Head Baseball Coach Christian Ostrander has no issue with the transfer portal.

After losing a lot of players to graduation and the MLB draft, Coach Oz attacked the portal, but he also utilized Junior College and High School recruitment to get a diverse group of talent. Fans will remember Division Three Eastern Connecticut State transfer Billy Oldham and his emergence as a star player and fan favorite last year, quickly working his way into the weekend starter lineup.

In a batting order with only three names from last year, transfers will take a significant portion of the lineup. There are three players that the Golden Eagle Faithful will learn the names of very quickly. Shortstop Ozzie Pratt, an Oxford native who transferred from BYU to Southern Miss and throughout the fall and spring, has impressed and solidified his position as a starter for now. Rhode Island transfer Billy Butler has been playing behind Carson Paetow in right field for the spring scrimmages, but after a multi-home run spring with a few diving catches and throw-outs, it will be hard to keep him out of the lineup for long. Junior College transfer Landen Payne has emerged as a top bullpen prospect, with pitches in the 93-95 mph range that both players and coaches seem excited to watch in a game setting.

In a year where most of the people who saw the field graduated or were drafted and a new head coach was taking the reins, it would be easy to decide to transfer away from a school, especially if there was a monetary incentive. Southern Miss, however, has perfected the art of the transition. Former Head Coach Scott Berry gave Ostrander more responsibilities and more executive operation last season, letting him slowly take control of the program before Berry’s retirement. This leads to one of the most seamless transitions of the head coach position in collegiate athletics and something Southern Miss has done since C.J. “Pete” Taylor was the skipper of the Golden Eagles.

The baseball team signing NIL deals may also be an excellent way to retain players. These remaining players also understand that – like Ostrander – it is now their time to take the wheel. Carson Paetow and Slade Wilks, exciting young prospects not long ago, are now veterans on the team. Both were elected as captains alongside Matt Adams. Nick Monistere is returning and looking to build off his explosive true freshman year, moving from second base to center field.

This gets back to the original question of whether the transfer portal will help or hurt Southern Miss Baseball. To answer this first question, another question will be posed: if there were a baseball team that has seven straight 40-win seasons (no other Division One school has more than 5), one of three Division One schools with 22 straight 30-win seasons, only five head coaches since 1959, hosted two Super Regionals in a row, coming off of a conference championship, given every player on the team an NIL deal, had a school-record five players chosen in last year’s MLB draft, consistently a Top 25 to Top 10 team every year, sells out the stadium every week, and whose fans print out fatheads of star players to parade over the outfield wall every time a great play is made, would you want to be anywhere else?

Schedule Preview – by Jackson Kennedy

Southern Miss baseball is officially back this week. Fans can already smell the sunscreen, burgers, and whatever else is on the grills at Pete Taylor Park. This season presents new and exciting opportunities in the schedule and on the roster. With only three starters from the batting order returning and a new head coach for the first time since 2009, this will be a season where the Golden Eagle faithful will have to learn new names and faces. That being said, this team has the potential to be just as good (if not better) than last year and even the year before that. With how loaded of a team first-year head coach Christian Ostrander has developed and assembled, fans and detractors alike will be surprised at the production Southern Miss’s offense and pitching will bring. Time will tell if this claim is correct, but one thing that can be immediately analyzed is the schedule laying ahead of the Golden Eagles. 

 In the non-conference slate, Southern Miss has a mix of faces old and new, with fun challenges ahead. Marist should be a sweep in favor of the Golden Eagles, and expect blowouts or close games throughout as the competition for positions finally smooths out. Next, Air Force comes into town, but a historically fun team to watch has lost some of its luster, making this a likely midweek win. Wednesday, Southern Miss travels to NOLA to battle New Orleans. This should be a win, but every now and then New Orleans finds a way to pull off a win, so do not count this as a lock. Every year, some crazy, unlikely loss befalls the Golden Eagles, and this game could very well likely be that loss. Missouri State then travels to the Pete, and this hot-hitting team could give Southern Miss’s pitching some trouble, but there has not been much buzz about their pitching. This should be another sweep in favor of Southern Miss, but it would not be too surprising if Missouri State took advantage of a reliever and put it out of reach one game. Nicholls takes on Southern Miss in Biloxi, which should be a fun game, but another win notched down. In the most exciting non-conference series of the season, Super Regional would-be Host Indiana State is coming into Pete Taylor Park. Their pitching is looking to improve over a stellar season last year, and their ace can get speeds into the far-upper 90s. Expect this to be a toss-up, but the Golden Eagles will likely win the series after dropping one. Traveling to Pearl that Tuesday, Southern Miss takes on Mississippi State. This is another toss-up, but Southern Miss, with a fully loaded offense, could very well likely pull off the win here. Louisiana Tech comes into town the following weekend, and this will likely be a sweep or a 2-1 split in favor of Southern Miss. Not because LA Tech is better than Southern Miss, far from it, but this longstanding rivalry makes any differences in talent go away for three to five innings as they play up to Southern Miss’s level, potentially securing a win. Alabama comes to the Pete that Tuesday, and this is hard to predict. Losing a head coach and so much talent is something both Southern Miss and Alabama are going through, but the Golden Eagles have a far more stable program. This really is a toss-up, but Southern Miss has the most stability, so they’re the favorites for this game. 

Non-Conference Record: 14-3 

Moving into the conference slate, Marshall comes into town. Marshall struggled badly last season with little signs of encouragement for this season, so expect Southern Miss to start their conference record 3-0. Ole Miss meets the Golden Eagles in Pearl that Tuesday, and without their Friday night ace, the Rebels have lost great depth. This is another toss-up, but with tempers flaring after last season’s no-contest call, expect Southern Miss to play angry. Angry enough to get a win, but do not count on it. Ole Miss can play angry, too. The Golden Eagles travel to Statesboro to take on Georgia Southern, and they, like Ole Miss, have some bad blood. A near brawl broke out last season, and tempers will flare again, but expect the same result as last season as Georgia Southern plays angry against Southern Miss as the Golden Eagles pull off a 2-1 split. Tulane travels to the Pete and, like New Orleans, always finds a sneaky way to get in the game. Expect an 8th or 9th inning rally to win this game for Southern Miss. Troy, a surprise conference favorite, travels to Hattiesburg next and will likely run into a red-hot buzzsaw. This will be a difficult series, but Southern Miss will pull off a 2-1 record to win the weekend. Southeastern Louisiana plays Southern Miss soon after, and this will be another fun midweek game that will be close due to a longstanding regional rivalry, but the Golden Eagles will win here.

South Alabama hosts Southern Miss next, and they will be a team to watch in the non-conference slate to see if they’re a force to be reckoned with or a team one can try new pitchers on. There’s always something fishy when South Alabama plays Southern Miss, so expect a 2-1 series win with a confusing or out-of-character loss. Southern Miss hosts Southeast Louisiana again, and this should be another win marked down with some shenanigans late in the 7th as is often the case when SELA travels to the Pete. Georgia State then hosts the Golden Eagles, and this should be a series Southern Miss sweeps if the Panthers play how analysts think they will this season. Nicholls meets Southern Miss yet again, this time in Hattiesburg, and this will again be another win. ULM travels to the Pete next, and although the Warhawks always make other teams play uncharacteristically poorly, this should be a series sweep. Southern Miss then travels to Tulane, and this will be the opposite of the first time they play. The Golden Eagles will likely have a convincing lead before an uncharacteristic collapse, as Southern Miss always has one or two confusing, RPI-tanking games that make fans on EaglePost go nuts before calming down after a series sweep. The Golden Eagles then travel to Lafayette, as they play the Ragin’ Cajuns.

This is such a confusing series, as there are a great deal of question marks for Louisiana. Going with what is known, however, Southern Miss will win the series 2-1. New Orleans travels to Pete Taylor Park after that, and memories will have this team seeing red over a confusing game back in February. Southern Miss will win big here, folks. Coastal Carolina travels to The Pete at the start of May, and this will likely be the most entertaining series all year. Southern Miss will win it 2-1, but if the crowd gets in the heads of the Chanticleers, this could be a series sweep that bumps Southern Miss into the hosting conversation come postseason. The Golden Eagles head to Jonesboro the next weekend, and this will likely be a series sweep, as there is little to no confidence in anything Arkansas State this season. Ole Miss travels to Hattiesburg for the first time since the 2022 Super Regionals, and this will certainly be a postseason atmosphere. Southern Miss fans and players do not have short memories, and that can be guaranteed. This will be a Tuesday night win that gets fans talking for months. For the final games of the regular season, Texas State heads into town. Southern Miss lost 1-2 against the Bobcats last season, and expect the reverse to be the case this series. Southern Miss wins the final series of the regular season 2-1. 

Hitting and Offensive Preview + Predictions – by Dima Mixon

JonBene’t Kepper

Arguably, the biggest question for the Southern Miss baseball team is how the offensive lineup will unite and mesh throughout the season. With the season just days away, here is an in-depth preview of the Southern Miss baseball lineup and a few projections on what Friday’s lineup could look like. (Do not quote me on these)

It is no news to any Southern Miss fan that they lost five crucial starters from last season. From the dual-threat talent in Dustin Dickerson to the fan-favorite Danny Lynch and others, Southern Miss has a lot of big shoes to fill.

While Southern Miss did return some of the strengths from the last few seasons’ teams in Slade Wilks and Carson Paetow, along with freshman sensation Nick Monistere, six other positions will need to be filled going into the opening weekend.

Let us go position by position:

Catcher

Southern Miss is losing a key piece in their defense with the loss of Blake Johnson and Rodrigo Montenegro. However, the staff is still hopeful that the catcher position will not see a drop-off, if any.

Golden Eagle fans are very familiar with senior Graham Crawford behind the plate. On the top of the list are the two incoming freshmen whom the Eagles got in this class, Tucker Stockman and Lawson Odom.

You could also throw Jacob Keys on the running list for the starting catcher. Not to mention, JUCO transfer Gray Bane gives head coach Christian Ostrander a plethora of options behind the plate for different days as well.

“We got some really good young talent back there,” Ostrander said. “It’s been fun to watch. Lawson Odom has really caught our eye; he does some things really well…. they all do certain things.”

First Base

It is a two-horse race to replace Christopher Sargent at first base for the Golden Eagles. You have either Ole Miss transfer Braden Luke or sophomore Matthew Russo, who saw some action in the 2023 season, including a three-run homerun early in the season.

Russo struggled to find an offensive side to his game last season, but he has had a great fall and spring so far and seems ready to slide into a solid role in the offense.

While Luke does not necessarily have the contact and power that Russo has, Luke can connect with the ball for the most part as a solid on-base batter.

“It’s a good competition,” Ostrander said on the battle.

Second Base

This one is one of the simpler ones to answer. Valparaiso transfer Nolan Tucker seems to have solidified this position through the fall scrimmages and by Ostrander’s word.

At Valpo, Tucker batted a .365 average, including .298 last season. His bat has really shined through the fall and throughout the spring.

He is also fast, which Southern Miss needs in the batting lineup, especially to start the season.

Shortstop

Shortstop is another infield position that seems locked up…at least for now. BYU transfer Ozzie Pratt will likely be your starter on opening day for the Golden Eagles. He is fast but also brings a necessary element of superb defense on the left side of the infield. It is a presence the Golden Eagles will miss with Dustin Dickerson not playing there.

The players behind Pratt could have a shot at seeing the field, especially early. However, for now, it is Pratt’s job to lose.

Third base

Not seeing Danny Lynch on third base will give Southern Miss fans a dose of reality of just how different this new era of Southern Miss baseball will be on opening day. This is one of the more significant question marks in the 2024 season outside of catcher.

From all reporting and accounts, Gabe Broadus will get the first crack at filling in Lynch’s shoes. He does not have the most significant body presence as Lynch had, but he can crank the ball. He was hitting some bombs in the fall scrimmages and a few in the spring as well.

Left field

In September, I went to the first fall scrimmage and was shocked to see Slade Wilks in left field. I was told this was obvious to my baffling eyes, but it was confirmed that Wilks and freshman Davis Gillespie have been battling it all fall and spring.

The outfield is so challenging because they have about six bats in the outfield that they want in the lineup, but only four can make it (including DH)

Ostrander has said that he wants Gillespie and Wilks’s bat in the lineup, which means whoever does not get the job will fill in as the DH.

Billy Butler has also made some noise, but they may utilize him more in the DH position to give either Wilks or Gillespie some rest.

Center Field

Nick Monistere is confirmed to start here at CF, making it one of the easier decisions for Ostrander.

Right Field

Another easy decision for Ostrander: Carson Paetow will start in right field.

Below are my final predictions for the starting offensive lineup against Marist. Again, do not quote me on these.

Projected Lineup and Positions

  1. Carson Paetow – RF
  2. Nolan Tucker – 2B
  3. Slade Wilks – DH
  4. Davis Gillespie – LF
  5. Nick Monistere – CF
  6. Ozie Pratt – SS
  7. Gabe Broadus – 3B
  8. Matthew Russo – 1B
  9. Lawson Odom – C

Southern Miss Pitching Preview and Projected Starting Rotation – by Dima Mixon

JonBene’t Kepper

A new era of Southern Miss baseball is underway at Pete Taylor Park, and with that is an entirely new look for Southern Miss’s baseball team in many regards. Where that change is not necessarily the truth is the pitching staff. 

The 2024 pitching staff brings back more elements of the 2022 and 2023 Super Regional teams than the defensive side of the ball does. 

“I really think our pitching staff has a lot more depth than we had last year,” Ostrander said. “I feel like we have a good group of guys that can be on the front end. You know, get you out of the gate. A good group of guys in the middle that bridge you to your back-end guys and I think we have multiple options there. Reminds me a little bit of the 2022 staff, I’m not saying that’s what they’re going to be. But we have a lot of depth and competition and it made everybody a little bit better. So, I love how these guys are competing.”

Now, Southern Miss lost a generational talent in Tanner Hall. Hall is a two-time first-team All-American who pitched 222 innings over the past two seasons and was almost unhittable in many of those games. 

Hall helped Southern Miss more likely than not get the Friday win and shortened the weekend dramatically for the rest of the pitching staff. Toward the end of the 2023 season, Hall had incredible outings in the Sun Belt tournament and the Auburn Regional. While falling short in the Hattiesburg Super Regional, his legacy lives on. 

Ostrander knows it is impossible to replace a guy like Hall, but he has two guys who have experience pitching in big games and have proven that they can go deep in games like Hall did. 

Billy Oldham Jr (8–3, 4.21) and Niko Mazza (5–2, 4.34) are both back on the roster for the Golden Eagles, which puts them in a place that is even better than last season, where they had lost two-weekend starters coming into the season. 

Oldham does have somewhat of a limited amount of velocity in his arsenal, but his low 90s heater serves up his nasty changeup and slider. Both pitches helped him contain Tennessee in game one of the 2023 Hattiesburg Super Regional.  

Oldham said he had a great fall and could not wait to return to the field for the Golden Eagles. 

Mazza has that velocity that you would typically see on a Friday night. He sat up at 92-94 last year, and watching him throw the ball in recent scrimmages that have gone up, topping at 97. He also has a good slider and changeup in his back pocket, which he can use to fall back after the heaters.  

Another significant element of the pitching staff is the return of Chandler Best. Best missed the 2023 season due to undergoing Tommy John surgery last fall. Best has a solid fastball and changeup and provides a starting lefty that might insert him into the weekend rotation. 

Importantly for him, he has experience. He is pitching in multiple big games in his career, including against Ole Miss in Pearl in the 2022 season and against LSU in the Hattiesburg Regional. 

Best is a candidate for the Sunday job, and two other candidates who are prominent returnees for the bullpen are Kros Sivley and Will Armistead. 

Armistead posted a 2.09 ERA in 43 innings as a transfer last year, and he made a couple of starts but was generally called on out of the bullpen. He was essential in the Sun Belt Championship and the Auburn Regional last season. Not to mention some of the liens he dropped in the press conferences following the games. 

Sivley’s season started super hot last year; he was virtually unhittable before a slight slump toward the end of the season. He is a lefty who delivers a low 90s fastball but a wicked changeup that sees much action. 

He scored 59-10 in K-BB in his 58 innings pitched last season. 

“We wouldn’t have been able to do what we did last season without him [Sivley],” Ostrander said at baseball media day. “He had a great summer pitching in the Cape Cod league. He came back and he was dogged out, I shut him down this fall….so right now he looks great, he’s one of the guys we are extending.”

They also have some guys who have looked good in the fall scrimmages and in the few spring scrimmages. Those guys include Jake Cook, Chase Adams, Jackson Parker, and JB Middleton. 

The Golden Eagles are also aided by JW Armistead, Will’s younger brother, and sophomore Colby Allen. 

Nick Monistere could see some action, but Ostrander said they have much talent and would only do it if they “absolutely needed too.” 

They are also awaiting Matthew Adams’ status. Another starter from a year ago underwent surgery in the fall on his shoulder, and Ostrander said he is “working to get back.”

Projected Starting Weekend Rotation

Friday: Niko Mazza 

I recognize this is bold, but I think Mazza and Oldham are probably interchangeable on Friday and Saturday. But Mazza’s velocity could give him the upper hand to start on Friday’s. 

Saturday: Billy Oldham Jr. 

As I said, Mazza and Oldham are interchangeable from Friday and Saturday, so I think Mazza will start as the Friday guy, and Oldham will be the Saturday guy. 

Sunday: Chandler Best

Ostrander has liked the look and the stepping up of Chandler Best, and I think his lefty presence will get him the nod on Sunday. It allows them to give the opposing team something else to look at and prepare for and gives a chance for Sivley to pitch on Friday and start on the midweek action. 

The pitching staff certainly has more depth than last season but less experience. Still, Ostrander is optimistic and ready to see what they offer when the season starts against Marist. 

Southern Miss Baseball Season Projections – by Dima Mixon and Jackson Kennedy

Dima Mixon, SM2 Sports Director: Southern Miss baseball fans have been entertained for the past three seasons with incredible runs. In 2021, the Golden Eagles, despite all odds, took an Ole Miss baseball team to the final game in Oxford before just coming short in the Regional Final. They were just three wins short of reaching Omaha. In 2022, Southern Miss baseball had the best season in recent memory. They hosted both an NCAA Regional and an NCAA Super Regional. However, once again, they watched Ole Miss dogpile in front of them to end their season two wins short of Omaha. Last season, Southern Miss caught fire late and was given an extra boost with the element of Scott Berry’s farewell season. They came heartbreakingly close, losing late at night in a deciding game to go to Omaha, coming just one win short. Three wins, two wins, one win? Seems too obvious not to call it. I hesitated in 2022 to pick Southern Miss to advance past the regional and didn’t go for it. I had Southern Miss losing to LSU in the hypothetical Baton Rouge Super Regional a season ago. This season, the pitching has the ability to do what it could do, especially since its ceiling is what the 2022 pitching staff was. While the lineup will struggle early, no doubt, they will find a rhythm like they always do and reach the NCAA tournament. I do think Southern Miss will defend and win back-to-back Sun Belt Championships. I predict they will have to travel to their respective Regional site, where they will win their third straight regional. I dont know how, or if I am very confident about this pick, but this is the year that Southern Miss fans have been waiting for. I think Southern Miss will break through and get to the College World Series in Ostrander’s first year.

Regular season record: 38-17.

Sun Belt Championship? Yes.

NCAA Baseball Regional Champion? Yes. 

NCAA Baseball Super Regional Champion? Yes

NCAA Baseball College World Series National Champions? No

Jackson Kennedy, SM2 Sports MMJ: For those concerned about sunshine pumping (especially after my football preview), let me assure you that this team has much more depth than Southern Miss fans have ever seen. There is so much talent that it will astound you. There are multiple players who are throwing 95+ who may not even take the mound this season, as they may not be needed yet. For every position on the field there is an active battle, and no relief pitcher will have to throw for six innings to secure a win. There are five different pitchers who are healthy that would make any coach or fan comfortable as a weekend starter, and there are several relievers who will strike fear into the hearts of any batter. This young batting order led by Southern Miss heroes Carson Paetow and Slade Wilks will surprise many, and Ostrander’s coaching style will be taking much more risks than fans have seen in the last 15 years. This is not a knock at either the current or former head coach, just an observation on how things are different. Expect double-steals and moves not often done from this scrappy team. If these predictions are correct, Southern Miss has another season to remember on its hands. Whether or not it is, however, getting back inside the welcoming gates of Pete Taylor Park is always the best way to start your spring. 

Regular Season Record: 45-10

Sun Belt Championship? Yes.

NCAA Baseball Regional Champion? Yes. 

NCAA Baseball Super Regional Champion? Yes

NCAA Baseball College World Series National Champions? Maybe

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