Berry bids an emotional farewell to Southern Miss

Published 4:15 pm Thursday, June 15, 2023

For the past month, whenever he was asked a question about his impending retirement, Southern Miss baseball coach Scott Berry did his best to deflect it. The focus, he insisted, should be on his players and not on him.

When the season, and with it his career, finally ended Monday night, Berry no longer had a choice but to soak up a bit of well-earned adulation.

Southern Miss’ fans gave him a standing ovation and chanted, “Thank you 40!” in reference to his uniform number. Even Tennessee, the team that had just defeated Berry’s Golden Eagles to advance to the College World Series, stopped its celebration to applaud him.

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For Berry, the moment was more than a thank you. He said it was a validation for doing things the right way during a 30-plus year coaching career.

“I was very, very humbled over that. Not expecting that whatsoever, but to me it ensures the relationships that I’ve been able to build with the people outside of our team,” Berry said. “We talk a lot about that if you want people to invest in you, you’ve got to invest in them and that’s the relationship that I feel like we have at Southern Miss baseball. We have a relationship with our fans and for them to tip their hat to me tonight, it meant the world to me.”

Berry was born and raised in Missouri, but has spent his entire coaching career in Mississippi. He was an assistant and then the head coach at Meridian Community College from 1991-2000. He twice took Meridian to the NJCAA World Series, had his jersey number retired there, and was inducted into the Mississippi Junior College Hall of Fame in 2014.

Berry joined his mentor Corky Palmer at Southern Miss in 2000, and then succeeded him as head coach — just as he’d done at Meridian — in 2010. Over the course of 23 years in Hattiesburg, Berry helped shape Southern Miss into one of the country’s top college baseball programs.

The Golden Eagles had reached the NCAA Tournament three times before 2000. Since then, they’ve gotten there 16 times. That run includes the past seven seasons with Berry as head coach.

Southern Miss hosted super regionals the past two years, although it was not able to win either one. Eventual national champion Ole Miss swept the Golden Eagles in 2022, and last weekend Tennessee beat them in three games.

“I think that’s what’s so special about Southern Miss and the tradition that we have. We pride ourselves on tradition because tradition is consistency,” Berry said. “We’ve been to seven straight regionals now, that’s pretty consistent. We’ve been to two straight super regionals that we’ve hosted. Starting to lay the groundwork on consistency there.”

Berry finished his career with a 528-276-1 record. He is the winningest coach in Southern Miss history — and as the reception following his final game showed, one of the most beloved as well.

As the fans cheered for him Monday night, Berry tipped his cap to them at home plate and walked alone up the third base line. Visibly emotional, he wiped away a tear before meeting with his players in the outfield for the final time.

The moment was not lost on his players.

“Congratulations to Tennessee but when they were dog piling, there were chants of U-S-M for Coach Berry surrounding The Pete. That’s just one example of what Coach Berry’s meant to this program and what he’s meant to me as a person and players that are here now and have been here,” pitcher Justin Storm said. “It’s hard to describe but that’s just an example of how you can see how much he’s meant to us and everybody in the stands tonight.”

For Berry, it was the kind of moment that he said will linger in his own memory forever. The Golden Eagles did not reach the College World Series like everyone wanted. But, Berry said, he doesn’t want his legacy to be judged by that anyway.

“Those numbers will fade, but the person you are and the teammates you are, the coach you are, how you care for people and try to build people and try to mold people that are around you, that’s what they’ll remember the most. That’s a big part of who I am,” Berry said.

“As I’ve gotten older, I understand the big picture. The wins are part of it. The losses come with it, but it’s these guys, when they’re done, what do they do then. What kind of impact are they going to make in the community,” he continued. “They know what they can do on the field — what are they going to do in the community? That’s part of our program. I really feel that’s a big part of our program moving forward.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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