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USM baseball coach looks for local pitcher to improve this spring

University of Southern Mississippi baseball head coach Scott Berry signs a baseball for Cathedral High School freshman Zach Flattmann Tuesday evening in Natchez. Berry was in town for the Southern Miss Alumni Association Southwest Mississippi Chapter’s Night at the Ballpark event at River Roasters. (Brittney Lohmiller \ The Natchez Democrat)
University of Southern Mississippi baseball head coach Scott Berry signs a baseball for Cathedral High School freshman Zach Flattmann Tuesday evening in Natchez. Berry was in town for the Southern Miss Alumni Association Southwest Mississippi Chapter’s Night at the Ballpark event at River Roasters. (Brittney Lohmiller \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Scott Berry made sure to bring a local twist to his baseball discussion in Natchez Tuesday evening.

The Southern Mississippi baseball coach made an appearance at the Night at the Ballpark event hosted by the Southern Miss Alumni Association Southwest Mississippi chapter at River Roasters. Among topics discussed was local standout Jake Winston, a Trinity Episcopal Day School alumnus who finished his freshman season at Southern Miss this past spring.

Winston pitched to a 5.40 earned run average in 15 innings of work, beginning the year as a starter before being used sparingly in the bullpen to end the season. Berry said he hopes to see a more relaxed Winston on the mound this year after struggling in his freshman year with inconsistency.

“He is a sophomore, and he took his lumps as a freshman, and that’s fine,” Berry said. “As long as he learns from it and matures from it. Jake is certainly one on the mound that we’re counting on this year. He has the potential, but it’s up to the individual to go and get it. But I have confidence in him.”

Winston had a promising offseason playing summer league baseball with the Acadiana Cane Cutters in Lafayette, La., where he shined as an all-star selection.

Beverley Winston, Jake’s mother, who was in attendance Tuesday, said her son’s first year was a little slow, but she expects things to pick up speed in 2014.

“It’s like the old country song, ‘Sometimes you’re the windshield, and sometimes you’re the bug,’” she said. “That’s the way pitchers are. Some days are good days, and some aren’t so good.”

Tam Winston, Jake’s father, said he still felt good about his son’s future, since getting to play as a freshman was an accomplishment itself.

“Last year was a learning experience,” Tam said. “It was challenging, yet rewarding,”

Berry spoke to the crowd about last season, which saw his squad lose to Rice in the Conference USA tournament finals, 5-4. He also touched upon how the team’s fall training has gone and what to expect in 2014 as far as the schedule and new players.

Berry said he hopes last season’s ending motivates his players to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in two years.

“We got a taste of it last year but fell short, so hopefully our guys can come in and get us back into postseason play,” Berry said. “By postseason play, I don’t mean conference tournament, I mean the NCAA tournament.

“We’ve been conference champs three of the past four years, but our program is measured by NCAA appearances that lead to Omaha.”

One of the many things Berry discussed at the event was fan attendance and how important it is to keep filling the stadium up game after game

“Its no secret, teams that have great fan bases, it fuels the home team,” he said. “When players have that back end, they tend to play better.”

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