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Playing Dirty with Southern Miss

How are they supposed to be a regional host when they don’t even know to keep their hats on?

Syndication: Hattiesburg American Susan Broadbridge/Hattiesburg American / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s officially the month of June, which means it’s time for postseason baseball! LSU is unfortunately on the road again, but thankfully not in the Pacific Time Zone this year. In fact, they will be making a rather short drive to Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

In order to learn more about our host and potential Saturday and/or Sunday opponent, I reached out to my friends Ryan and Bradley at Black and Gold Review with a few questions.

While they are our enemies this weekend, any of you who are Saints fans should definitely give them a follow for their awesome work blogging about the other black and gold team they are fans of. Be sure to tweet at them about how the Saints need to sign more than just Tyrann Mathieu and Jarvis Landry to properly fill our LSU quota. They’ll love that!

But first, hear their perspective on the Southern Miss team LSU could face, the lively town it will take place in and their general dislike for the school you and I root for. Sports are fun!

1. Wow, LSU has to go TO Southern Miss for a regional this time? What’s so special about this year’s Golden Eagles team anyway?

So we gotta talk a little about how Southern Miss baseball got here before we talk about this team specifically. If the answer rambles on, blame Bradley, because he’s the one who likes to just. Keep. Writing. Words.

Southern Miss baseball’s only had four coaches since 1959. Not a typo. Four coaches in 63 years. Each of those four guys — Pete Taylor, Hill Denson, Corky Palmer, and Scott Berry — has improved on what the previous coach built.

Taylor took a small-school baseball program and won just under half his games playing in an old field out back of the football stadium. He retired in 1983 and Pete Taylor Park opened in ‘84 with a couple thousand seats.

Denson took the baton, coached until ‘97, and had the program’s first 40 win seasons and NCAA tournament appearances. He retired with a .548 winning percentage. People started to fill up those couple thousand seats.

Palmer was next; winning percentage .619, eight regionals in 12 seasons, Omaha in ‘09. The fan culture around the team took off on his watch, and the expectations around the program changed—people saw getting into regionals as a given.

He handed the job to Berry, who’s bumped the winning percentage up to around .650 or so. The stadium’s now Pete Taylor Park/Hill Denson Field, it’s got 4300 stadium seats, suites, multiple standing room zones and assorted other seating areas, and the Right Field Roost, which is a big tailgating setup that’s developed a culture and atmosphere that rivals anything you’ll experience in college sports.

We routinely have between 5000 and 6000 fans for games now, and this season ranked tenth in the nation. Think of it this way: 99 percent of college baseball teams have fewer fans than LSU; 97 percent of them have fewer fans than Southern Miss.

Berry’s on his sixth consecutive 40+ win season (obviously not counting 2020), with a 50 win year thrown in there for good measure. He became our all-time winningest coach this year.

Point being 2022 isn’t unexpected. It’s all part of the plan for a program that’s been steadily building now for literally six decades.

What does make the ‘22 Eagles feel a bit different is there’s only one place left for the long steady climb to take them now: that last elite tier alongside programs like, you know, LSU.

Whew. Okay. Here are some assorted specific special 2022 Golden Eagle baseball things now.

Gabe Montenegro has been in Hattiesburg probably since Pete Taylor was coaching and he’s sort of our beating heart (for real though—his little bro Rodrigo is our freshman catcher and I think he was in eighth grade when Gabe got to Southern Miss). You will see a fan-built wooden structure out in the Roost that flies a Guatemalan flag in honor of the Montenegro boys.

The Southern Miss pitching staff is great as a whole, like, outside of Tennessee there isn’t a better one in America. It doesn’t have one, like, super-duper-ace who throws a 0.90 ERA or whatever (though Tanner Hall, from Zachary, LA, was conference pitcher of the year), but it does have three weekend guys who are all superb in different ways and then a damn horde of dudes behind them who all have ERAs between two and four. We have destroyed many opponents’ wills to live by making them think they will thrive now that they’ve gotten to our bullpen only to find out our bullpen has an endless supply of unhittable sliders.

The lineup will make or break Southern Miss in this regional though. The staff is a little susceptible to the long ball, which y’all Tiger folk will love to hear, but it’s no big deal when Berry’s platoon of 230 pound lefties is hitting the ball with the stick.

Sometimes they do not hit the ball with the stick, though, which has led to a lot of dudes with averages that have fallen under .300 during the slump that took us out of top eight seed contention. But still, we have five players with 10+ homers, including one with 20. Those dudes compare very favorably with LSU’s power lineup—Southern Miss just doesn’t have that extra bunch of guys with a half-dozen each, like the Tigers.

Anyhoo. The regional will probably be decided by whether LSU or Southern Miss has more guys on base when they hit their home runs.

And to bring this neatly to a close with a tl;dr type answer to your question: If Southern Miss wins the 2022 Hattiesburg regional, the 2022 team will be special forever as the one that vaulted the Eagles from the land of the very good into the sport’s elite stratosphere. That’s what our fans have sensed all season.

Ryan here. As a lifelong Southern Miss baseball fan of 8 weeks, this baseball team is special because amidst all the ESS EEE CEE powerhouses within a 200 mile radius (LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State), we’re the only one hosting and have by far the best winning percentage against SEC opponents.

Southern Miss .750

LSU .567

Ole Miss .467

State .300

(Note from Bradley: I really hope the comments section wastes time getting all the details behind these winning percentages and then writes about how stupid we are.)

(Note from Evan: It’s impressive that Scott Berry has coached this program so well as a side hustle in addition to his 9-5 job playing Mike Ehrmantraut.)

2. Though you are both USM grads you are Louisiana natives. Tell us your favorite memories of the LSU Fighting Tigers over the years.

One time in 2008 I (B here again) was at the Southern Miss/East Carolina game, watching Larry Fedora coast to a getting-back-on-track win from the student section, when my friend group of Louisiana and extreme-South-MS folks realized LSU was losing to Troy by like 30 points. We started to make fun of LSU family and friends. Ahhh, that was great. (Tigers came back and won the game, so we did a heel turn and made fun of Troy instead.)

Another favorite LSU memory came in baseball in 2019, when Matt Guidry hit that grand slam in B. R. and had a whole bunch of Tiger fan butts clenching for a while.

But okay I’ll be nice now. When I was a kid in 2000, I got taken to the LSU/Tennessee game that came the week after Josh Booty threw 50 interceptions to UAB players. Because Josh Booty threw 50 interceptions to UAB players, Rohan Davey started against Tennessee.

He was amazing. Tigers won. Rohan is one of my favorite football players ever, full stop, and his performance that day is one of the best football performances I’ve ever gotten to see in person. Obviously I do not believe all Louisiana natives must like LSU, but we probably should all love Rohan Davey.

Ryan again. I don’t have a favorite LSU memory. Hell, I’m so cajun, I’ve got a town named after me and I don’t think about you. You’ll be shocked to know that LSU is not the center of anyone else’s world.

3. Many LSU fans would like to buy tickets and pack Pete Taylor Park with purple and gold. In an act of good showmanship, tell us the best ways to acquire tickets to this weekend’s regional! Surely it won’t be a convoluted process, right?

Look, man, I think Ryan told you where the athletic department has us each ranked among our donor base — down with the peasants — so if you find some tickets, let us know?

In all seriousness, I don’t think it’ll be as severe a situation as the one in 2017, when the entire university openly trolled Mississippi State fans by selling only to Southern Miss donors and ticket holders and, once all the Southern Miss folks had the tickets they wanted, literally stopped selling more.

Recall that, while the stadium’s official capacity is 4300, we can and have put like 6500 in there if we want to. We literally decided to make less money on a baseball tournament just to fuck with Mississippi State University. It was amazing. Until a literal first round Major League Baseball draft pick misplayed a routine pop out and let State back into a game the Eagles had pretty much wrapped up, resulting in calamity, and, uh, so what was the question again?

Hi, Ryan here, just to follow up on the donor roll. I assumed at “donor score 2692,” I’d have no shot at tickets, but as I was writing this, I was notified that I do, in fact, have tickets. No, you cannot buy any for a game in which USM is playing and if you want tickets to the LSU/Kennesaw State game, I will consider offers that involve new cars, courtside Pelicans tickets, and firstborn children.

4. While we’re here, what should we do and see in Hattiesburg?

Burg’s a good eating town, especially for its size, and any of restaurateur Robert St. John’s places is a guaranteed good meal. A thing about Hattiesburg is it’s got as much of a Louisiana flair as any town in Mississippi outside the Coast, so if there’s a restaurant with a name like Crescent City Grill (St. John’s old standby, on Hardy Street) it’s actually going to be really good.

It’s a good beer town, too. Southern Prohibition Brewing is absolutely worth a stop, and a load of growlers and six packs to bootleg back over the state line. Keg and Barrel is our spot for pregaming almost every football game. Get drinks at Mahogany Bar, head downtown and have bagels and live music at SouthBound Bagel and get your souvenirs at The Lucky Rabbit.

Exhausted and hungover the morning after Christopher Sargent’s walk off home run eliminated LSU from the Hattiesburg regional? Get your coffee at T-Bones, with a side of great music on vinyl to explore those sad emotions.

5. We all love Brett Favre for when he threw across his body to Tracy Porter 12 years ago but who are some other beloved USM alumni we should be aware of? Preferably ones who haven’t stolen millions of dollars in Mississippi welfare funds.

True fact: After Brett was slow to get up following one of several post-throw-but-completely-within-the-rules Saints hits on him, Bradley screamed “FAVRE ON THE GROUND! FAVRE ON THE GROUND! FUCK THAT GUY, FAVRE ON THE GROUND!” Remember how the Vikings were doing that whole pants on the ground thing? They deserved what they got. Lord.

Anyway. Brett’s not the greatest quarterback in Southern Miss football history. Reggie Collier is. Here is a big feature about him that will explain why. (Silly anecdote: a bunch of us were leaving a basketball game circa ‘07 and bumped into Reggie as he too was leaving the game, and the most starstruck of us, a huge college football history nut, grabbed Reggie’s hand and shouted “Reggie! He beat the Bear!” And Reggie just shook his hand and laughed.)

If the old dudes and/or the frat guys play a lot of Jimmy Buffett, that’s because he went to Southern Miss. As part of the agreement we sign to receive our degrees, we are barred from complaining to anyone about all the Jimmy Buffett songs.

We’ve had 126 NFL draft picks, which is a hell of a lot for a member of the college football proletariat. These are all alumni.

We both have another Southern Miss grad friend on the Westbank who has sold insurance to an unusually large number of former Southern Miss football players from metro New Orleans. This is more a fact about some alumni than a name of one.

The great Sally-Ann Roberts of New Orleans local television fame is a Southern Miss grad.

We’re here for baseball, so some recent alumni who’ve made noise in the show are recently-retired all-star and World Series champ Brian Dozier and Cleveland pitcher Nick Sandlin.

Oh! A fun baseball one is Chad Bradford, a long-time reliever most famous because he was an extreme submarine thrower and because he’s a prominent part of Moneyball, book and movie.

Ryan once again here to say that I grew up in Hancock County. That’s right, last bastion of Catholicism amidst a sea of Baptists and homeland of Brett Favre. A friend of mine worked at the now defunct FAVRE’S ON THE BAYOU restaurant that was inexplicably in The Kiln. It was run by Brett’s brother who was awful. Our boy Charles, Chuckie when he was feeling dangerous, waited until the one time a year Brett was in town at the restaurant to quit on the spot and let the world burn. That’s it. Fuck Brett and his Oak Grove mansion.

6. Hey fuck you guys for Curly Hallman. There’s no question here, just wanted you to know.

In 1989, Curly Hallman had a losing season at Southern Miss with Brett Favre as his quarterback. And then y’all hired that guy!

Semi-related: when you’re in town, please don’t mention the name “Ellis Johnson” to anyone. It’s a difficult topic for us. Thank you for your sensitivity.