With hopes of getting off to a fast start, the 2016 Southern Miss baseball season gets underway at 4 p.m. Friday with the first of a three-game series against Eastern Illinois.
Senior right-hander Cord Cockrell, a transfer from Louisiana-Lafayette, gets the opening day start for USM after going 3-0 with a 4.37 ERA in 11 games last year, including seven starts.
Cockrell served in a mid-week role last year, but head coach Scott Berry is confident that he will ease into the weekend role.
"He pitched some really big midweek games for us last year," Berry said. "He drew all the tough ones. I feel like he's got the best mix of pitches. He's thrown strikes and he's thrown secondary pitches for strikes. He seemed to be the guy that was most consistent this spring."
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Senior right-hander Jake Winston, who worked out of the bullpen last year, will start Saturday's 2 p.m. game and sophomore left-hander Kirk McCarty will take the mound at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Eastern Illinois, which plays in the Ohio Valley Conference, will start three right-handers this weekend with only Friday's starter, redshirt senior Matt Vivinis, seeing time on the mound last year. He was 3-8 with a 6.44 ERA in 2015.
Senior right-hander Nick Johnson will likely work his way into the weekend rotation for USM at some point, but his recovery from a shoulder injury will likely limit him to bullpen work this weekend.
Former Pascagoula and Pearl River Community College star Tracy Hadley should get plenty of playing time early in the season and has a good shot to start at shortstop in the opener.
Hadley batted .260 with a .362 on base percentage with five homers and 26 RBIs last season at PRCC.
"He's swung the bat pretty good this spring," Berry said. "It seems like he's kind of shored up his defense. He started out shaky in the fall, but ended pretty strong. Offensively, he's shown to have a feel for the bat. He might be that two-hole hitter."
Senior Nick Dawson and Hadley have seen most of the time at shortstop during practice with freshman Storme Cooper also getting some work. Dawson is the returning starter at second base. How Hadley and Dawson hold up at shortstop will be key to USM's success this season.
"Offensively, we have a chance to do some things," Berry said. "We lose (shortstop Michael Sterling) after he committed only nine errors last year. That's going to be a key for us and obviously pitching with how that comes around. Even the old faces, they have to step up."
Sophomore Taylor Braley is back as the starter at third base, but he should also see some time on the pitcher's mound. When he does pitch, Hadley can move to third.
Senior Tim Lynch returns as the starter at first base after batting .313 with nine homers and 32 RBIs last season.
Senior Chase Scott is back in left field following a strong finish at the plate in 2015, batting .288 with four homers and 30 RBIs.
Junior Dylan Brudeaux, who started in right field last season, may get get the start in center field Friday if Division II transfer Jake Sandlin isn't fully recovered from a bone bruise in his knee.
Sandlin batted .380 with 14 homers and 55 RBIs last season at Georgia College, graduated in the spring and transferred to USM to join his brother, freshman pitcher Nick Sandlin, on the USM baseball roster.
Junior Chuckie Robinson takes over as the Eagles' primary catcher this year and Berry is hoping for a breakout season from the Danville, Ill., native.
Sophomore Daniel Keating, a Gulfport product, will likely serve in a backup outfielder/designated hitter role for the Golden Eagles this season.
Senior lefty Cody Livington and Nick Sandlin, a right-hander, both have a shot to fill the closer role for the Golden Eagles.
Senior lefty Luke Lowery, Hinds CC transfer right-hander Houston Case and senior right-hander Connor O'Brien will be expected to work in middle relief this season.