The Southern Miss baseball staff was left in a tight spot when many of their best bats from the 2019 team were lost to graduation, transfer and the MLB Draft, but head coach Scott Berry and company took a significant step toward bolstering the 2020 lineup on Wednesday.
Pearl River Community College third baseman Austen Izzio announced that he has decided to verbally commit to the Golden Eagles following a standout freshman campaign with the Wildcats. He hit .332 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs while helping lead PRCC to a No. 1 seed in the NJCAA Div. II World Series.
Southern Miss had recruited Izzio since the fall of his freshman year at PRCC, but the offer didn’t come until new USM assistant Travis Creel passed along word late Tuesday afternoon that he had a scholarship waiting on him with the Golden Eagles.
Izzio talked it over with his family Tuesday night and decided to announce his intentions to sign with the Golden Eagles for the 2020 season on Wednesday.
The former Pearl River Central High School standout described the decision as a “no-brainer” and he texted the USM staff to inform them that he “wanted to be a Golden Eagle.”
“It hasn’t really sunk in. It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s always been a dream to play Division I. My one year at junior college was the best year of my life. I give credit to (PRCC head coach Michael Avalon) and his staff, including my brother (Anthony Izzio). Without them pushing me, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Izzio, who has three years of eligibility remaining, hit leadoff and played third base at PRCC this past season, but he has the potential to fill a variety of roles as a sophomore at Southern Miss.
“He’s someone who should hit for a high average and also with some power,” Avalon said. “What he does offensively is what they’re excited about.”
Izzio said Wednesday that he was told by the USM staff that the plan is to plug him in somewhere in the middle of the lineup.
Defensively, Izzio has the potential to play one of six different positions — third base, first base, second base, left field, right field or designated hitter.
“It’ll be utility. I’ll play wherever they want me to play,” he said. “My dad always said, ‘If you hit, you’ll find a way into the lineup.’ That will be the mentality I’ll have coming in.
“I want to hit for power, but I want to do what’s best for the team. If I’m in in the nine hole, I’ll want to get base for the team so we can score runs. I’ll do whatever I’ve got to do to help our team win.”
USM returns standout starters in second baseman Matthew Guidry, third baseman Danny Lynch and left fielder Gabe Montenegro, but Berry could plug in Izzio at first base or reshuffle the defensive lineup to find him a position.
No matter where he lines up in 2020, Izzio believes he has found a good fit in Southern Miss.
“I know they lost of lot of key hitters last year,” he said. “I feel like I can help this program a little bit. They’re known for winning games. It’s amazing to be part of a winning program. I’m pumped, for sure.”
USM lost its 3-5 hitters from the 2018 team with first baseman Hunter Slater graduating, right fielder Matt Wallner signing with the Minnesota Twins and designated hitter Bryant Bowen transferring to South Carolina.
With the commitment of Izzio, Creel is already showing his deep ties on the junior college circuit after he was hired away from Louisiana Tech earlier this month.
“We’ve had a good relationship with (Creel),” Avalon said. “He signed (PRCC pitcher) Shemar Page at Louisiana Tech. I’ve known Coach Creel for several years. As a program, they handled it the right way. He communicated very well to us (that USM wanted to sign Izzio). With Southern Miss being 30 miles down the road, it’s good for both of us.”