April 4, 2013
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Many argue that this was the best Southern Miss baseball team ever assembled.
When the dust settled following the 2003 season, this Golden Eagle squad captured both the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles, captured a school-record 47 victories and remains the only team in this institution's history to play host to an NCAA Baseball Regional.
As part of this weekend's three-game Conference USA series with Tulane at Pete Taylor Park/Hill Denson Field, this squad will be recognized as part of the school's 100 Years of Championships and Commencements celebration.
The 2013 Golden Eagles (11-16 overall, 3-3 C-USA) entertain the Green Wave (15-16, 3-3) for a 6 p.m., contest on Friday, a 2 p.m., affair on Saturday and will conclude the set with a 1 p.m., game on Sunday. The 2003 team will be honored prior to the Saturday tilt.
Looking back at this 2003 squad, it certainly started a standard for Golden Eagle baseball, which was to reach postseason play as it was the first of nine-straight NCAA tournament appearances for the program.
For that team's head coach, the assembly of players was the end result of recruiting, time and team chemistry.
New Orleans, La.
Falls in Series Finale 4-3 at Tulane
Blake Crohan had four hits and scored the winning run in the sixth to lead Tulane to a 4-3 Conference USA baseball victory over Southern Miss here Sunday afternoon at Greer Field at Turchin Stadium.
"Talent-wise it is," said former Southern Miss coach Corky Palmer, who guided the program for 12 seasons and took the program to its first College World Series appearance in 2009 in talking about that team's ability to be called the best in school history. "That team set the precedent to carry us on through (the next several years). Those type players that we brought in the early 2000s as it progressed to us being able to lead the league in hitting, pitching and defense and numerous other categories, I certainly makes me believe it was the best team we have ever had.
"That team won 47 games and got to host a regional. There were some great players on that team of which most of them were drafted as some point in their career. We really didn't have a weakness. Plus they were hungry as they hadn't been in a regional for a couple of years. They wanted to be there and they began to grow together through recruiting which culminated in the 2003 season."
The 2002 season, which saw Southern Miss come up a victory shy of making it to the regional tournament, left everyone associated with the Golden Eagle baseball program anxious for the start of 2003.
The Golden Eagles lost three starting pitchers from the year before in Shea Douglas, Charlie Rogers and Daniel Stewart, as well as third baseman Allen Winningham and rightfielder Clint Stoy to graduation.
The season started in style as the squad won two out of three from McNeese State, with the two wins featuring late-inning heroics.
That was followed by possibly the wildest game of the year which came in game six of the season against St. John's at the South Alabama Tournament in Mobile, Ala. Both teams traded leads until the ninth, when the Golden Eagles secured a 13-12 victory.
The season also featured many late-inning heroics, such as March 1 against Louisiana Tech. Trailing 15-13 in the bottom of the ninth, senior centerfielder Jeff Cook blasted a grand-slam over the center field wall to clinch a 17-15 victory.
On March 29th, redshirt sophomore catcher Brad Willcutt belted a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth to propel the Golden Eagles over Tulane, 5-4. One of the more emotional series of the year, Southern Miss took 2-of-3 games from Tulane, which at the time gave Palmer's team a 20-8 overall record.
Southern Miss proceeded to win 15 of its next 18 games, with conference sweeps over Memphis and UAB to push its record to 35-11 heading to Greenville, N.C., to battle East Carolina in a pivotal three-game series. Unfortunately, ECU defeated Southern Miss in two of the contests, but the Golden Eagles were 36-13 overall, and were still in first place in C-USA.
Southern Miss then rebounded nicely with a three-game sweep over the USF at Pete Taylor Park, including senior backup shortstop Matt Benson's pinch-hit walk-off home run in the ninth-inning of game one.
With a 39-13 overall record, the Golden Eagles had an opportunity to clinch the regular-season Conference USA championship as it traveled to Houston. All Southern Miss needed was to win two of the three to win the title.
Game one, the Golden Eagles blasted the Cougars, 19-11, and with TCU losing that night, Southern Miss clinched at least a tie of the title. It was a close second game with Houston coming out on top, 6-5. With the loss, the Golden Eagles had to win the third game if it wanted to win the regular season championship and they did, 15-3, to claim the regular-season Conference USA Championship.
The Golden Eagles went on to capture the Conference USA Tournament title, which was held in New Orleans, La., as it defeated Charlotte (13-0), Houston (7-2), East Carolina (3-1), and Tulane (7-5), the first time the Green Wave had ever lost a championship game.
Southern Miss then was selected to host a regional tournament, which included Southern University of Baton Rouge, Murray State, and Baylor. The Golden Eagles took on Southern in the first game of the tournament, with Southern pulling out a 5-3 victory.
For Southern Miss to win the regional tournament, it had to win two games each of the final two days. The Golden Eagles won both games on Saturday, beating Murray State, 18-0, and Southern, 18-1, but its fairy tale season finally came to an end on Sunday when Baylor scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to hand Southern Miss a season-ending 3-2 loss.
Despite its season-ending loss, the achievements and accomplishments of this team cannot be diminished.
Both Clint King and Jeff Cook were consensus All-Americans, while Austin Tubb earned mention on the NCBWA All-American squad and Marc Maddox earned Freshman All-America honors by Collegiate Baseball. For Palmer, he was named the league's Coach of the Year.
Although it is 10 years ago since this team's exploits on the diamond, it is that success that still resonates today and fuels future Golden Eagle squads to great heights.
Games 28-30: Southern Miss (11-16, 3-3) vs. Tulane (15-16, 3-3)
Pete Taylor Park/Hill Denson Field - Hattiesburg, Miss.
Friday, 6:00 p.m.
RH Tony Rizzotti (4-3, 1.87 ERA) vs. LH Jake Drehoff (1-3, 3.93 ERA)
Saturday, 2:00 p.m.
RH Alex Byo (2-3, 2.58 ERA) vs. RH Andrew Pierce (5-1, 2.08 ERA)
Sunday, 1:00 p.m.
LH David Napoli (3-1, 1.40 ERA) vs. RH Conor Fisk (2-1, 2.14 ERA)
Southern Miss IMG Sports Network
94.3 (WKZW-FM) Hattiesburg/Laurel (Flagship)
96.7 (WFFF-FM) in Columbia
620 (WJDX-AM) in Jackson
96.7 (WUJM-FM) in Biloxi-Gulfport
|Follow Southern Miss Baseball:||Follow @SouthernMissBSB|