Southern Miss

Coast baseball talent to be on display in Hattiesburg Regional

Southern Miss third baseman Tracy Hadley, a former Pascagoula star, throws to first after fielding a ground ball against Charlotte on Saturday at MGM Park in Biloxi.
Southern Miss third baseman Tracy Hadley, a former Pascagoula star, throws to first after fielding a ground ball against Charlotte on Saturday at MGM Park in Biloxi. File

Three of the four teams in this weekend's Hattiesburg Regional know each other and South Mississippi very well.

Mississippi State, Southern Miss and South Alabama have all met on the baseball field this season and for many years before that.

That competition extends beyond the diamond with the three programs' recruiting trails intersecting in the state's southernmost six counties. As is the usual, all three squads feature talent off the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Starting on Friday, the three teams will be joined by Illinois-Chicago at Pete Taylor Park to begin their pursuit of a Super Regional bid.

A total of six players from the state's southernmost six counties have a good chance to make contributions in Hattiesburg this weekend.

A pair of former Gulfport stars, Alex Nelms and Daniel Keating, are at Southern Miss along with former Pascagoula two-sport standout Tracy Hadley.

At South Alabama, D'Iberville product Dylan Hardy has had a breakout season as the team's speedy leadoff hitter.

Mississippi State (36-14) features former Biloxi star Cody Brown and the 2015 Sun Herald South Mississippi Player of the Year, Konnor Pilkington of East Central. Right-hander Drew Windham of Ocean Springs also joined the team this year as a freshman walk-on.

Watch as Gulfport grad Alex Nelms makes his first start pitching for University Southern Miss on Tuesday, April 18, 2017.

Familiar faces

Brown, a redshirt senior who has become a key utility man for Bulldogs, likes the idea of battling familiar faces.

"I played with Dylan Hardy and his brother growing up," Brown said Wednesday. "I played against Daniel Keating when he was at Gulfport. I look forward to matching up with those guys and hopefully we'll come out on top."

Brown is batting .301 with seven homers and 33 RBIs headed into Friday's 6 p.m. opener against South Alabama (39-19). He's played first base, second base, third base and left field this season.

He had never spent much time on the hot corner, but he proved up to the challenge last week during the SEC Tournament.

"I've been relying on help from my coaches and teammates with experience at those positions, picking their brains," Brown said of playing the utility role. "I've been getting a lot of reps in practice and buying into what coach asks of me. I'm just being a team guy."

Brown said he expects to be back at third base when the Hattiesburg Regional begins.

Pilkington has made significant progress in his sophomore season, serving as MSU's weekend ace. He is 7-5 with a 3.13 ERA in 15 starts this season.

Hardy, an outfielder, has also been a bit of a revelation for the Jaguars (39-19) this year, batting .358 with four homers and 28 RBIs. He hit three homers last week to help lead South Alabama to the Sun Belt tournament title.

If Hardy reaches base, teams will have to contend with his impressive speed. He has 18 steals in 25 tries.

‘It’s going to be ridiculous’

Hadley, Keating and Nelms all saw playing time for the Golden Eagles last week during the C-USA tournament at MGM Park in Biloxi.

Hadley, who has received starts recently at third and second, had the chance to play in front of friends and family in Biloxi last week. The senior now gets an opportunity to play potentially his final games at Pete Taylor Park in the biggest setting yet.

No. 1 seed USM (48-14) will play No. 4 UIC (39-15) at 1 p.m. on Friday in the regional opener.

"It's probably going to be ridiculous," Hadley said Wednesday. "Yesterday, they announced it was sold out. I rolled by the school this morning at about 8 to get a smoothie and I saw a bunch of students out there lined up trying to get tickets. It's going to be a really good crowd and we want to give them what they want."

Hadley had a big RBI single in the eighth inning of USM's come-from-behind 6-5 win over Charlotte in the first game of the day on Saturday at MGM Park.

"It feels really good anytime you can keep the rhythm going," Hadley said. "Those are the moments you live for as a player."

Keating has played in 56 games this season, often splitting time between center field and designated hitter. He's tied with Dylan Burdeaux for third on the team with 11 homers. He's batting .260 with 29 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.

USM coach Scott Berry has put a lot of trust into Nelms, a freshman right-hander, this season. He has a 1-0 record with a 5.60 ERA in 13 appearances, including one start.

Hadley and company know they'll have to play cleaner ball this week after winning four of six games in the C-USA tournament last week.

"At this point in the season, sometimes you're not going to play your best baseball as a team," Hadley said. "You have to grind it out each game."

Hattiesburg Regional

Friday’s games

1 p.m. — No. 4 Illinois-Chicago vs. No. 1 Southern Miss

6 p.m. — No. 3 South Alabama vs. No. 2 Mississippi State

Location: Pete Taylor Park, Hattiesburg