Southern Miss’ ‘best player’ could return for CWS

Published 1:47 am Wednesday, June 10, 2009

JACKSON (AP) — Good things happen to college baseball teams that keep winning this time of year, something Southern Miss shortstop Brian Dozier can testify to firsthand.

Dozier was positive his college career was over eight weeks ago when he had surgery to repair a broken collarbone. Week after week, though, the Golden Eagles kept winning. And week after week Dozier kept healing.

He now stands on the verge of making Southern Miss’ College World Series roster and could play Sunday against Texas in the opening round.

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‘‘To sort of motivate the team, I always said I’ll be able to play if the team makes it to Omaha,’’ Dozier said. ‘‘Really, looking at the last half of our season, that didn’t seem possible, to be honest with you.’’

Then the Golden Eagles started a stretch of 12 wins in 15 games that included an appearance in the Conference USA tournament title game and a 5-1 run through two rounds of NCAA play.

‘‘And look at us now,’’ Dozier said. ‘‘It’s just amazing to me. I’m so overwhelmed right now that I get to play college ball again.’’

Maybe. He still needed to prove to coach Corky Palmer that he can hit live pitching in practice Tuesday and Wednesday. And Palmer wasn’t as confident as Dozier on Tuesday. The deadline for setting CWS rosters is Thursday night.

‘‘We’re not going to just put him out there,’’ Palmer said. ‘‘He is the captain and he was our best player. But we’re not going to cut a guy off the roster unless we think Brian can really be used. He’s a special guy, though. If anyone can do it, I’m telling you he’s one of those guys.’’

Palmer calls Dozier his best player and the statistics bear him out. Before the injury, Dozier had started 131 straight games, including 35 straight this season, and has 221 starts in his career (and counting).

The 5-foot-11 senior from Fulton, was batting .394 with four home runs, 13 doubles, 44 runs and 39 runs batted in when he broke his collarbone diving for a groundball.

He has continued to work out in anticipation of being taken late in the Major League Baseball draft, and didn’t put much hope in playing for Southern Miss again.

‘‘It’s my dream come true to play in Omaha, and I never thought I would because I was hurt,’’ Dozier said. ‘‘Now that I have the opportunity, I couldn’t feel more blessed than I am right now.’’

Dozier’s arm strength isn’t back yet, so he would likely only appear as a pinch or designated hitter early in the tournament. But no matter his role, fellow senior Bo Davis said, Dozier’s presence will continue to be a lift for the team.

‘‘For him to get another opportunity to go out there, that’s huge for us and really keeps us going,’’ Davis said. ‘‘He’s played a huge role for us just in the dugout, you know. He hasn’t been down because he wasn’t playing. He just kept to his role as a motivator and a cheerleader. He’s done an amazing job. You can see that in all the pictures. He’s probably in the middle of all of them.’’