Local Southern Miss fans long for College World Series

Published 12:01 am Saturday, June 6, 2009

NATCHEZ — Southern Miss’ baseball program has entered unchartered territory this season by advancing to the program’s first super regional in history.

And that’s got local Southern Miss fans excited about even bigger and better things for the program.

The Golden Eagles will take on the No. 8 seed Florida Gators in the best of three super regional, which begins today at 2 p.m.

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The winner advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., a place Southern Miss has never been.

This weekend’s super regional has been a long time coming for the Golden Eagles, who have advanced to seven straight regionals, but never a super regional.

“We finally kicked the door down,” USM fan Chip Sturdivant said. “This ranks up there with winning the NIT in basketball and winning conference championships and Liberty Bowl’s in football. In baseball, this is the biggest thing for sure.”

Longtime Southern Miss supporter Kurt Russ said USM has had better teams, but this one just got hot at the right time and is riding the wave.

“After our best player (Brian Dozier) got hurt, everybody wrote us off,” Russ said. “But we went to the Atlanta Regional and beat Georgia Tech twice. This is a big deal for us. It puts us on the map.”

There is also a sentimental feeling to Southern Miss’ run through the postseason.

Longtime coach Corky Palmer announced his retirement late in the season, which seemed to inspire the team to its current winning form.

“We started the season off well, but then went through a lull,” Russ said. “When Corky said this was his last year, it was a win one for the Gipper type thing. It was like a trampoline. It jumped them off.”

Both Sturdivant and Russ have witnessed many Southern Miss games over many years, and have been through the times when the program was struggling.

That makes this weekend even more sweeter for them.

“You go through those bad times, and when the good times hit, there’s no feeling like it,” Sturdivant said. “That’s why you’re a fan.”

Russ said he hopes this super regional appearance is just the beginning to a golden age of Southern Miss baseball.

“It seemed like we would get to a point where we almost got over the hump and then just stayed there,” Russ said. “I hope this propels us to bigger and better things. Win, lose or draw, they’ve done something nobody expected them to do, and it’s exciting to watch.”