Feb. 11, 2014
Story courtesy of STN Digital | More about STN Digital
Southern Miss head baseball coach, Scott Berry, has been around the game a long time.
Berry, who started his coaching career back in 1984 as a student assistant at the then Southwest Missouri State, will begin his 31st year coaching collegiate baseball this spring.
Entering his 14th season at Southern Miss and 5th as head coach, Berry could not be happier with his baseball program.
"Number one thing for me is certainly happiness. I'm happy here," said Berry. "More than anything is the people of Southern Miss, the fan base, and that we have to consistently have a chance to win year in and year out. It certainly makes you enjoy coming to work here."
The success of the Golden Eagles has been a direct result of the blossoming talent within the southern Mississippi area.
"What's unique at Southern Miss is that we've been able to have a lot of our success with local, home-grown talent," explained Berry. "This has always been a very strong baseball area in south Mississippi; it's always represented in the state championship on the high school level."
With a strong Mississippi talent pool, Berry has been able to recruit solid all-around talent, rather than simply focusing on one skill-set.
"I'm not a guy that just specifically goes out and says, `Hey we got to recruit speed, we got to recruit power,'" said Berry. "I feel like we recruit people that are going to be successful in our program and then there's times when we have to adjust to that."
Once a player enters the Southern Miss baseball program, Berry takes it upon himself to develop that young man into a proud student-athlete.
"More than anything is really trying to develop the young man and recognizing the tradition that has been here and the players that have been successful here in that blue collar approach," said Berry. "It's really about trying to preach that to your own team year in and year out; that's who we are."
Like much of Southern Miss's athletics department, Berry is a strong proponent of the true `student-athlete'.
"The first thing is that it's labeled `student-athlete' with `student' coming first," explained Berry. "You're here to get an education and I will adjust my practice to any class time. Their commitment to the education side comes first."
"I think when you show the priority in that ranking, then certainly [the players] see that it is very important to me, and it should be to them as well," said Berry.
With the start of the 2014 baseball season just around the corner, Berry is ecstatic about the talent Southern Miss will field this season.
Mason Robbins, a junior, was originally drafted to the MLB out of high school, but chose to attend Southern Miss instead. Robbins was also a freshman All-American.
"[Robbins] has been very consistent in his first two years and proves to be on that same page again this year as a junior," said Berry.
A fellow All-American freshman, Bradley Roney, is another player coach Berry is looking forward to this spring.
"Bradley helped us out of the bullpen as a freshman but was more of a third baseman this past year," said Berry. "I think we'll utilize him a little bit more on the mound because that seems to be his strength and where we need his help the most."
Connor Barron, a third round MLB draft pick out of high school, is still making the transition from shortstop to centerfield. Berry, however, is encouraged by his progression--despite injuries in his first two years at Southern Miss.
"To his defense, he hasn't been healthy the past two years," explained Berry. "This is the healthiest he's ever been since he's been here and it shows in the way he played this fall. I'm very excited about seeing him in centerfield."
Berry fully endorses Barron for his skill-set and how effectively he has picked up the centerfield position.
"He's learned that position and made that adjustment very well," said Berry. "I think he projects excellent in the outfield."
At catcher this year is Matt Durst, a junior college transfer from northeast Texas. Berry described him as a "new guy" but is encouraged by his sound leadership behind the plate.
"He's really swung the bat well and brings us that leadership behind the plate that you have to have," said Berry. "He's probably somebody that I'm very excited about that's new coming in."
Despite there being a considerable amount of experience among position players, the starting pitching rotation will see some new faces this season. The Golden Eagles will certainly have to fill the void left by the now graduated "Friday starter" Andrew Pierce.
"We're relatively new other than our Sunday starter Conor Fisk," explained Berry. "That will be the one returning starter that has any kind of experience there, so we're going to be relatively new on the mound and we're going to have to rely on several guys in the bullpen to win games."
With the season being just weeks away, coach Berry has set his sights on returning to the post-season regionals this year. Conference-USA has recently expanded from nine teams to thirteen, but Berry's plan remains simple.
"Win 35 games, win the conference regular season, win the conference tournament, and obviously get into postseason play," said a hopeful Berry. "And once you get into postseason play, and you're one of 64, anything can happen."