Southern Miss

Ocean Springs native has his dream realized twice at Southern Miss

Southern Miss mounts intense rally to take down Rice in C-USA tourney

Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner hit a walk-off home run to beat Rice in the C-USA tournament in Biloxi.
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Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner hit a walk-off home run to beat Rice in the C-USA tournament in Biloxi.

As Travis Creel grew up playing baseball in Ocean Springs, the slick fielding infielder considered Southern Miss his “dream school.”

After playing for the Golden Eagles from 2010-13 and making a quick climb through the coaching ranks, Creel is again living out his dream as a member of the USM coaching staff.

Creel, who spent the last three seasons as an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech, visited with USM head coach Scott Berry on July 8 and got the call a couple of days later informing him of the job offer.

“He was pretty pumped up,” Berry said. “He was very excited, which I knew he would be because it’s home for him and his wife. Coming back to USM, he always wanted to coach here. We all know about his passion for Southern Miss and that will continue as a coach here.”

The 29-year-old Creel will take over as the team’s hitting coach and serve as recruiting coordinator for Berry, who is entering his 11th season as the USM head coach.

“I’m really fired up to get back home,” said Creel, whose parents still live in Ocean Springs. “I’m very excited to continue what Coach Berry and (former USM assistant coach Chad Caillet) and (former USM head coach Corky Palmer) have built over the last 20 or so years.”

The hiring of the Creel continues a trend of USM choosing assistant coaches with deep ties to the program and in South Mississippi. This also marks the second consecutive instance of Berry hiring a member of the Louisiana Tech staff after Christian Ostrander, a former head coach at Gulfport High School and Jones County Junior College, became the USM pitching coach ahead of the 2018 season.

“Dating back to (former head coach Hill Denson), it’s been Southern Miss-type people who have really kept this program moving in the direction we want,” Berry said. “With Travis’s situation, he was invested in program for five years as a player and was a big part of three teams that won championships. He knows the standard we’re held to. He’s the kind of person, on and off the field, that we’re looking to bring into the program. He did an excellent job at Louisiana Tech, working for another Southern Miss guy in Lane Burroughs.”

Burroughs, who has been the head coach at Louisiana Tech since 2017, was an assistant at USM from 1999-2007.

“We’re certainly not targeting Lane Burroughs and La. Tech. He’s my best friend,” Berry said. “But I knew (Ostrander and Creel) from their deep ties in Mississippi and Travis is a former player and graduate of Southern Miss.”

Creel played for Berry and worked as an assistant under Ostrander at Jones County Junior College before following him to Louisiana Tech.

“(Ostrander) is a big mentor that I know I can call on, lean on,” Creel said. “I’m excited I get to work with both of those guys.”

As a hitting coach, Creel will rely on tips he picked up from Caillet, who left recently to join the Texas A&M staff after serving as a member of the USM coaching staff for 12 years.

As recruiting coordinator, Creel can use a healthy list of contacts he established during his time at JCJC and La. Tech.

“I think the tradition and history at Southern Miss makes it a place kids want to be,” Creel said. “Not to mention Pete Taylor Park and the fan base, there are a lot of selling points. We have a great facility.”

Creel’s first season as an assistant coach was spent at Meridian Community College before spending two years at JCJC, contributing to a 2016 squad that won the Div. II junior college national championship. Creel was hired as an assistant and director of camps at La. Tech prior to the 2017 season before he was elevated to hitting coach and recruiting coordinator for the last two seasons.

With USM losing sluggers like Matt Wallner, Hunter Slater and Bryant Bowen, Creel understands that he’ll be working with a different type of USM lineup in 2020. Senior infielder Matthew Guidry, who hit .297 with eight homers and 47 RBIs, and redshirt junior left fielder Gabe Montenegro, who led the team with a .342 batting average and 68 runs scored, are the top returning bats for the Golden Eagles.

“We’re losing 48 home runs out of 64. We’re losing a lot of power,” Berry said. “It’s pretty light. I think you’re going to see a little bit of a different team in how we do things from an approach standpoint We’ll have to really embrace not striking out. We’ve hit with power these last few years. We’ve probably struck out too much, given up at-bats. We’re going to be the opposite. We’ll not be able to afford to give up at-bats.”

Upgrades on the way?

The USM baseball program is currently raising funds for a project to install artificial turf at Pete Taylor Park after the condition of the playing surfaced played a role in game cancellations and lost practices in recent years.

The installation of the artificial turf would cost $1.3 million, according to Berry.

If USM continued with its current playing surface, the outfield would need repairs that cost $600,000.

If Berry and company can come up with the funds for the artificial surface, he believes that the program will save the financial benefit in the long term.

“With the maintenance, rain-outs and not losing games, there are so many benefits,” Berry said. “We’d be able to host more tournaments and that would be to the benefit of hotels and restaurants. It would be a big development for us because we can start playing five minutes after it stops raining. We have no in-door facility or somewhere to go to practice. It really handicaps us. Teams that have turf never hardly lose days of practice. When we get rained out, we lose that day.”

If USM can come up with the funding, the hope to is to install the artificial turf after the completion of fall practice.

“There’s no update with it,” Berry said Friday. “We hope it happens. The plan is to continue to secure resources and financial funding.”

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.
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