There is nothing designating Northwestern State’s three-game baseball series at Southern Miss as homecoming for the Golden Eagles.
For a couple of Demons, it is just that.
Fourth-year head coach Lane Burroughs spent nine years of his career at Southern Miss while Cort Brinson was born and raised in Hattiesburg and attended numerous baseball camps during and after Burroughs’ career.
Burroughs’ and Brinson’s collegiate paths come full circle Friday when the Demons (3-1) open a weekend series against Southern Miss (4-0) at 6 p.m. at Pete Taylor Park/Hill Denson Field.
Graduate manager Brandon Smith, who tied the Demons’ single-season saves record, is also making a homecoming, returning close to his hometown of Petal, Mississippi, Hattiesburg’s neighbor to the east.
“It really is a second home to my wife and I,” Burroughs said. “We spent nine wonderful years there. We had great success on the baseball field. We had great friends in the community. All three of our children were born there in Hattiesburg. It will be an emotional trip back.”
The same can be said for Brinson, who was the Mississippi Class 6A Player of the Year as a senior at Oak Grove High School while leading the Warriors to a 34-3 record, a state championship and a No. 2 national ranking.
Brinson returns home ranked in the Northwestern State career top 10 in hit by pitches (39, T-2nd) and doubles (37, T-4th) and closing in on the top 10 in seven more categories.
“I haven’t gotten to play in front of my friends yet,” Brinson said. “There have been some at LSU games who have come down and watched. Not a lot of my family has been able to come see me play. My grandparents get to come. Some friends I haven’t seen in a while have been texting me, excited about the game.”
Brinson was a two-sport standout at Oak Grove, playing linebacker in football and catcher in baseball. He has carried a traditional linebacker’s mentality to the diamond, which has served him well.
Brinson’s challenge this weekend will be to temper the emotions that have made him a mainstay in the NSU lineup for four seasons.
“You’ve got to go into it with an open mind,” Brinson said. “Obviously, I’ll be a little more pumped up than I am for other games, but baseball is a game where you have to calm down and let yourself live in the moment and just breathe. I think I’m prepared for it. You’ve got to go into it, get going, get settled and be relaxed.”
Some of Brinson’s Oak Grove teammates from their state championship run will be in the opposing dugout this weekend.
Similarly, someone with whom Burroughs shares a special bond will be as well.
“(Southern Miss head coach) Scott Berry is a mentor,” Burroughs said. “He’s like a brother to me. We speak every day. I don’t make a big decision in my life without speaking to him. He’s a brother in arms. I’m not excited about competing against him, but we have to do it.
“He knows me like the back of his hand, and I know him. It will be fun to compete against them, and go home to Hattiesburg and Southern Miss. They have a great program, a great team. You’ve got to get all of that – seeing people, shaking hands, smiles and hugs – out of the way and get down to business.”
Ultimately this weekend is a business trip, the first of the season for the Demons, who opened the season with four straight home games.
As much as the trip will test Burroughs’ and Brinson’s emotional capacities, it will test Northwestern State as a whole.
Southern Miss hit nine home runs in a season-opening sweep of Eastern Illinois, including three by Brinson’s former teammate Taylor Braley.
“It will be our first road trip and the first time we’re not playing on turf, which is a big deal,” Burroughs said. “It will prepare us for the next couple of weeks. It doesn’t get any easier. They had a great opening weekend and played good baseball. It will be a great test.”
Friday – NSU RHP Adam Oller (0-0, 0.00) vs. USM RHP Cord Cockrell (1-0, 0.00)
Saturday – NSU RHP Jeffrey Stovall (1-0, 1.80) vs. USM RHP Jake Winston (0-0, 2.08)
Sunday – NSU LHP Chase Hymel (1-0, 5.40) vs. USM LHP Kirk McCarty (0-0, 7.20)