HATTIESBURG – Southern Miss shortstop Dustin Dickerson, from nearby Laurel, hit two home runs in his first three seasons with the Golden Eagles.
At the Auburn Regional last weekend and Monday, Dickerson slammed four round-trippers, twice as many in one extended weekend as he had in three previous seasons. All totaled at Auburn, Dickerson hit safely eight times, including a triple and a double, in 22 at bats. He scored five runs and batted in 11 to help the Golden Eagles win four straight games to advance to the Super Regional this weekend against Tennessee in Hattiesburg. Little wonder he was selected the Regional’s most outstanding player.
“Same swing I’ve always had,” Dickerson said, after the tournament. “I’m not doing anything differently.”
Perhaps not, but clearly there’s so much more power packed in Dickerson’s swing. Those weren’t wind-blown balls that just got over the fence at Auburn. No, he whacked a couple of tape-measure shots over Auburn’s green monster wall in left field and also hit another well over the 396-foot sign to straight-away centerfield.
Dickerson for three seasons had been a huge asset for the Golden Eagles, but mainly as a slick-fielding shortstop who could make all the plays. He batted ninth in the order for much of that time. He hit for average, but not for power. This season, he has hit .328 with 10 home runs, 20 doubles, and three triples. Moved up to the No. 2 hole in the batting order, he has driven in 50 runs.
“When I came here I weighed 155 pounds soaking wet,” Dickerson said smiling.
“Dustin was a twig,” is the way Southern Miss strength and conditioning coach Todd Makovicka put it.
He’s a sturdy oak now, having added 30 pounds to his physique. “All muscle,” Dickerson said. “Coach Mac has been really, really good for me.”
Dickerson still doesn’t look like a body builder. But his shoulders are much broader, his chest is thicker, and his upper legs are much more muscular. Said Makovicka of Dickerson, “He wasn’t born with it. He wasn’t naturally strong. He has had to work for it.”
Makovicka and his two graduate assistants have been invaluable to the entire Southern Miss program. Scott Berry, the head coach, swears by them. In fact, Berry will tell you that perhaps the best move of his 14 years as the head man was to raise $540,000 for a strength and conditioning building behind the third base stands at Pete Taylor Park in 2015.
“Just look at our records before and after,” Berry said. “There’s your proof.”
Let’s do just that. In 2010, Berry’s first season as head coach, the Eagles were 36-24. Their victory totals over the next five seasons were 39, 32, 30, 35 and 36.
In their first full year of the weight room, the Eagles won 41 games in 2016, followed by 50 in 2017, 44 in 2018, 40 in 2019, 40 in 2021, 47 in 2022 and 45 this season. They were 12-4 in the COVID season of 2020.
“That increase in victories is no accident,” Berry said. “We lifted before but we shared a weight room with every other athletic program on campus at the football facility. There were only certain times we could lift and sometimes the time we had wasn’t conducive to fitting in our baseball schedule. To me, getting our own weight room, at our ballpark, right next to our clubhouse, right behind our dugout, was the missing piece of the puzzle. I think it shows in our record.
“And its not just what it has done for us on the physical side,” said Berry, a long-time lifter himself. “There’s definitely a mental advantage to it, too. You put in the work, you see the results. You’re stronger physically, but you are also more confident mentally because you know how much stronger, more durable you are.”
Dickerson is Exhibit A. Balls that were Texas League singles two years ago, are gappers for doubles and triples now. Balls that were fly balls even a year ago are sailing far beyond the fences now. It’s not just at the plate. Dickerson has added pop on his throws from the hole at shortstop. The son of Philadelphia Phillies coach Bobby Dickerson, he always has possessed at Major League glove. He can make all the plays at shortstop.
The added muscle presumably will improve greatly his value in this summer’s Major League Draft. Dickerson has much more pressing matters that consume him currently. Southern Miss defeated LSU in its own Regional last year, then got blown out and shut out by eventual national champion Ole Miss is a Super Regional at Pete Taylor Park.
“We’re a year older,” Dickerson said. “We’ve been here before. We know what it takes. The moment is not going to be too big for us. We expected to win the Regional last week. We expect to win the Super Regional this week.”