HATTIESBURG — A red telephone booth sits outside Southern Miss’ international center without a soul in sight. Just east, an Oseola McCarty statue basks in the sun near a fountain still with no one to be found.
In reality, the setting was just the calm before another storm taking place just north at the university’s athletics facilities, where the thump of bean bags hitting wooden boards is met with the clink and fizz of beers and seltzers opening.
Southern Miss baseball’s bout against Ole Miss in the Hattiesburg Super Regional has been billed — and rightfully so — as a seminal moment in Mississippi sports history. The winner of the three-game series advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, where a national champion will be crowned, and the matchup is magnified by instate battle lines. Mississippi is only the eighth state in college baseball history to host a completely in-state super regional.
Just behind the union complex and M.M. Roberts Stadium, where the Golden Eagles play football, the celebration is underway. And Mississippi knows how to throw a college baseball party, though not many have reached the magnitude of this function.
Gregory, a Southern Miss alumnus and president of East Central Community College, is sporting a white visor for his alma mater. Beside him, fellow alumnus Roman Holmes sits in his camouflage gold and black USM shirt enjoying the tailgate before heading to Pete Taylor Park, where the super regional will take place.
Beyond them, fans are rolling in. Southern Miss, understanding its capacity of 4,300 isn’t enough to accommodate the flood of people this weekend, set up three big screens just outside its football stadium.
Hattiesburg isn’t as traditional of a college town as Oxford or Starkville. Its businesses don’t rely as heavily on the student population, but the Golden Eagles have become a welcomed bonus.
Robert St. John has watched as crowds flood the five restaurants and two bars he owns in town – rallying around this nationally prominent non-Power Five team looking for its second trip to Omaha.
“It’s great to get everybody in town,” St. John said. “I wish we had a bigger baseball stadium because if we could seat 20,000, we’d probably fill it today and tomorrow.”
The seas of gold and black are met with plenty of red and blue. At the front of the general admission line, a fan in a red Lance Lynn jersey sits in his folding chair well before gates open. A few yards beyond, Southern Miss fans do the same waiting to get to their chairbacks.
Golden Eagles coach Scott Berry walked by the anxious crowd just after noon in a white T-shirt tucked into jeans. Berry, the sun reflecting off his bald head, strolled by unbothered onto the turf field where he walked around picking up each small blemish before the national lights shine.
Southern Miss tasted the College World Series in 2009, and its fans are hungry for more. But as Game 1 starter Dylan DeLucia and his Rebel teammates stepped off, a reminder of the task ahead spread through Hattiesburg: Ole Miss was one win shy of reaching Omaha in 2021.
“Whether Southern wins or loses, Hattiesburg is probably going to get burnt to the ground this weekend,” USM fans and alumnus Harley Warren said from his perch in the tailgating field.
Omaha knows how to throw a college baseball party, too. The Magnolia State has already sent its RSVP. Either the Rebels or Golden Eagles will bring a few thousand plus-ones with them.
source: Jackson Clarion Ledger