By Robert Wilson
The late David “Boo” Ferris loved Christian Ostrander.
“Coach Ferriss and Christian were close,” former Delta State baseball coach and current DSU athletic director Mike Kinnison said. “Coach Ferris loved pitchers and pitching coaches. He followed Christian not only when Christian was playing and coaching at Delta State, but after he left. Coach Ferris was invested in Christian. He would have been very proud of him today.”
Ostrander, the former Delta State pitcher and assistant coach, now considered one of the top pitching coaches in the country, is in his fifth season as a pitching coach and associate head coach at Southern Miss.
Ostrander’s Golden Eagles pitching staff might be the best in the country. They rank first in the country in strikeout to walk ratio (4.39) and second in earned run average (3.16) and second in strikeouts per nine innings (11.3).
No. 11 national seed and Conference USA regular season champion Southern Miss is the No. 1 seed in the Hattiesburg Regional, which begins Friday at 1 p.m. when Southern Miss plays host to No. 4 regional seed Army in the first round. No. 2 regional seed LSU plays No. 3 regional seed Kennesaw State Friday at 6 p.m. in the double elimination event.
Ostrander was quick to point out that none of his success would have happened without soaking up a wealth of knowledge from Ferris, Kinnison, the late Bill Marchant and former Mississippi Delta Community College coach Terry Thompson. Even though Ferris retired from coaching in 1989 several years before Ostrander came to DSU, he was always close to the program and its players, especially the pitchers.
“Coach Ferriss has a tremendous influence on me,” said Ostrander, who played two years at Delta State under Marchant, then was a graduate assistant and assistant coach at DSU under Kinnison and played for Thompson at Mississippi Delta CC. “I put Coach Ferris’ name on my resume as a reference. He was very special to me. I listened to everything he said and the times with him were special. I’m so glad Coach Ferris took the time to invest into me. Coach Marchant coached from his wheelchair (he was paralyzed in an automobile accident) and was a great coach while I was playing. Coach Kinnison was his assistant when I played, then took over for Coach Marchant as head coach while I was a GA and assistant. I saw first-hand how important relationships were and what they were about. They weren’t always warm and fuzzy. But they expected something out of you, and you expected something out of them. They demanded hard work. They wanted you to succeed as a player. I learned mental toughness from all of those coaches. We played with an edge at Delta State, and I feel like these guys here at Southern Miss do that, too.”
That foursome were great examples of tremendous success for Ostrander to follow.
First there was Ferriss, the patriarch of Mississippi baseball who passed away at age 94 in 2016. After a promising All-Star career with the Boston Red Sox was cut short with a shoulder injury, Ferris coached Delta State for 28 seasons before retiring in 1988 and has been inducted into numerous Halls of Fame. The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame has the Ferriss Trophy in his name, awarded to the top Mississippi collegiate baseball player, which was won by Southern Miss sophomore right-hander Tanner Hall last month.
Kinnison played for Ferris and coached at DSU for 23 seasons before retiring four years ago to become athletic director. A member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, Kinnison averaged 42.5 wins per year at DSU and won a Division II national championship.
Marchant, who passed away in 2016, was a part of Delta State for 27 years. He played for Ferriss in the late 1960s and replaced him as head coach in 1990. Marchant was paralyzed in 1993 but continued to coach until 1997 when Kinnison took over. Marchant taught classes at DSU for many years after he left coaching.
Thompson was a Mississippi junior college coach for 23 years, a professional scout for 16 years and has owned his own private pitching company for the past 18 years.
“I hope one day players will feel like about me like I feel about my former coaches who influenced me,” said Ostrander, who was named the C-USA Assistant Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season.
Kinnison knows they do. They talk often.
“Christian has the unique combination of technical knowledge, being a competitor yet having compassion for his players,” Kinnison said. “He has a genuine caring nature.
Christian is a great recruiter. Families, parents and players like his confidence and leadership. He has shown he can develop players and pitchers. I am proud of his growth as a coach and as a person. Christian has been successful wherever he has been. He was a great teammate, had a magnetic personality and players gravitated toward him when he was at Delta State. He is a strong competitor. When it is time to hook it up, he hooks it up.”
Southern Miss head coach Scott Berry, in his 13th season in Hattiesburg, knows Ostrander’s value.
“Christian is a humble man who exhibits tremendous character and integrity which is important to me and this program,” Berry said. “He has an outstanding work ethic and passion that radiates to our current and future players. Christian has proven success to teach and develop young student-athletes both as men and players. The history he has in Mississippi, both as a player and as a coach, allows for us to strengthen our networking in the recruiting world.”
Ostrander has strengthened the Golden Eagles’ staff for the past five seasons, especially this season. Despite losing two weekend starters in Hunter Stanley and Walker Powell and his top reliever in Ryan Och to the pros from last year’s team, Ostrander has one of the deepest staffs in the country this season.
At one time this season, his trio of weekend starters – Hall, graduate transfer right-hander Hunter Riggins (from Delta State) and sophomore right-hander Hurston Waldrep – were all in the Top 50 in the country in lowest ERA. Southern Miss was the only school to accomplish that feat. Hall was named the Conference USA Pitcher of the Year and Waldrep was named first team along with closer and sophomore right-hander Landon Harper. Riggins was named to the C-USA All-Tournament Team. Hall was named this week first team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.
Eight pitchers have below 3.00 ERA, almost unheard of on college pitching staffs this day and time. Check out this numbers, sophomore left-hander Dalton Rogers (1.67), junior right-hander Aubrey Gillentine (1.93), Harper (2.27), junior right-hander Garrett Ramsey (2.35), Hall (2.69), Riggins (2.75), sophomore right-hander Tyler Stuart (2.92) and Waldrep (2.99). Hall has 130 strikeouts and only 11 walks (an 11.82 ratio) in 93 2/3 innings, ranking him third in the nation.
Ostrander has been successful between Delta State and Southern Miss as well. He was pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Arkansas State from 2002-2006 then at Gulfport High for two seasons. Ostrander was the head coach at Jones County Junior College for seven years and led the Bobcats to a national junior college runner-up finish in 2011 and a final No. 6 ranking in 2014. He left Jones to become the associate head coach and pitching coach at Louisiana Tech for two seasons. Four of his pitchers at Tech were selected first round picks in the major league draft.
When Mike Federico left Southern Miss to become the head coach at Louisiana-Monroe in 2017, Berry was quick to hire Ostrander.
“Christian’s morals lined up with mine in what we are trying to teach here,” said Berry in an interview with Hub City Spokes last spring. “I think he is a man of high character and a model of what we want our guys to become with their own families. We are both family people. I think that’s important in the development of the student-athlete at Southern Miss. What I look for in a player both on and off the field, I saw in Oz as a teacher both as a coach and as a life lesson teacher.”
If Coach Ferriss were still here on this Earth, he would be shaking his head in agreement with Berry.