As the 2018 NCAA Baseball Season is nearing arrival, a perennial Forgotten 5 contender in Hattiesburg, MS is preparing for a season that will hopefully best last season’s efforts.
That’s not to say last year’s play was anything to shake a stick at, as the Golden Eagles posted a school-record 50 wins, a Conference USA regular-season championship, a C-USA tournament championship runners-up, and the first time to host an NCAA Tournament Regional (as a 1-seed**).
Unfortunately, the Southern Miss squad fell short in the championship round of the regional, falling to Mississippi State twice consecutively to cut the season short of what could have been.
As all could imagine, last year’s somber ending has been a good motivator for the start of the 2018 campaign, as the MSU Bulldogs travel to Hattiesburg on opening weekend for a three-game series, which sold out quickly and is shaping up to be one of the most interesting opening-weekend-series of any in college baseball.
The Golden Eagle faithful are hopeful for the 2018 season. With much of the offensive power returning (and many new faces with power potential), plus a solid set of arms shaping up, Southern Miss fans expect a lot about the new generation of Eagles.
After losing Dylan Burdeaux and Taylor Braley to the MLB Draft, many may think that the offense will be suffering. While their offensive prowess will be missed, All-American Sophomore Matt Wallner (.336, 19 HR) returns along with a slew of dependable bats, mostly making up an offense that outscored the opposition 544-316 in the 2017 season.
With Hayden Roberts, Kirk McCarty, and Taylor Braley departing the program for the MLB Draft, many people have been concerned with the effectiveness of the 2018 pitching staff.
With the lion’s share of the starting rotation dismantled by the draft, it is going to be imperative for a few key arms to step up and provide some quality mound time to set up preseason All-American closer Nick Sandlin (10-2 with a 2.38 ERA and eight saves) to come in and shut things down.
The Golden Eagles will rely on lefty Stevie Powers (3-0, 5.13), Colt Smith (6-2, 3.36), with some weekend starting under his belt, and J.C. Keys (3-3, 5.56) to likely shape up the weekend. Obviously, the rotation will be mixed and matched, but this is the most logical set up as of now.^^
^^UPDATE: In a bit of a surprise twist, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles have announced Nick Sandlin the starter for opening day. Stevie Powers gets the Saturday start and Sunday is for J.C. Keys.
Key Departed Players:
- Dylan Burdeaux, IF/OF, .337 BA, 12 HR, 69 RBI, 21 SB
- Taylor Braley, IF/P, .313 BA, 17 HR, 61 RBI, 3.40 ERA, 7-2 W-L, 82.0 IP, 78 SO
- Kirk McCarty, P, 3.52 ERA, 10-2 W-L, 99.2 IP, 103 SO
- Hayden Roberts, P, 4.30 ERA, 5-2 W-L, 73.1 IP, 86 SO
Key Returning Players:
- Matt Guidry, IF, .363 BA, 4 HR, 33 RBI
- Mason Irby, OF, .338 BA, 1 HR, 40 RBI
- Bryant Bowen, C, .337 BA, 5 HR, 20 RBI
- Matt Wallner, OF, .336 BA, 19 HR, 63 RBI
- Hunter Slater, OF, .312 BA, 4 HR, 39 RBI
- Nick Sandlin, P, 2.38 ERA, 10-2 W-L, 56.2 IP, 80 SO, 8 SV
The 2018 Golden Eagles have all the potential in the world to have a stellar regular season and to make a solid run in postseason play. While hopeful to maintain a firm stance in Conference USA and an interesting out-of-conference slate including MS State, Ole Miss, Louisiana-Lafayette, and South Alabama, the Golden Eagles are set up for success. Sprinkle in a few newcomers that are expected to have an immediate impact, it is not crazy to think that the Southern Miss squad has a very legitimate chance to make a deep run in the 2018 Postseason.