Here are some facts from last season.
Ole Miss was second in batting average in the Southeastern Conference in 2012. But the Rebels were eighth in runs scored. The Rebels hit 37 home runs, which was sixth in the league, but a good percentage of those are gone with the departure of Matt Snyder and Zach Kirksey – 25 of them, to be exact.
But this is a new season. Players step up. Players have progressed. No longer is the long ball so much of what college baseball is all about anyway.
It’s about a lot of other things offensively, like speed and clutch RBI hitting, and taking advantage of opportunities throughout the course of a game or a season. The Rebels have the pitching and defense, it seems. But so many wonder about the offense. Are they correct to do so?
“We’re just going to be more dynamic,” said second-year assistant coach Cliff Godwin, whose main focus is hitting and run production as the offensive coach of the Rebels. “We’ve got more guys on offense that can run. We’ll be putting pressure on the defense. We’re also going to hit more home runs. I’m on record as saying that, because we’ve got more guys spread out throughout the lineup that can do it.”
Godwin expands that thought.
“Last year we had Snyder and Kirksey and nobody else hit more than four,” he said. “Will Allen is going to hit some. Sikes Orvis is going to hit some. Stuart Turner is going to hit some. Auston Bousfield is going to hit some. Preston Overbey. John Gatlin (when he returns from injury). A lot of different guys have a chance to hit six to ten home runs. That’s going to be a good thing. So there are at least six or seven guys in the lineup who can hit home runs.”
Godwin said it’s not all about home runs in college baseball, especially in this era, and he understands that completely.
“We’re not going to live and die by the home run,” he said. “We’ll hit more doubles and we’ll be more dynamic as an offense.”
The players as a whole have gotten stronger. With some of them, that’s apparent at first glance. Bousfield, the sophomore center fielder, is one.
“He’s just so much more mature (than a year ago at this time),” Godwin said. “When you’re a freshman and you get a chance to play every single day in the SEC for a top 25 team and perform like he did offensively and defensively, his confidence is a lot better. He’s stronger and more physical, and he’s more prepared. I think that shows in his game.”
Coach Cliff Godwin
One important aspect of an improved offense is the fact that Godwin has been here for a year. Tanner Mathis said the players are excited about that.
“We’re a lot more comfortable around him,” said the senior left fielder and leadoff batter. “We understand more what he means when he says stuff. It’s not new lingo anymore. You hear it and you know what to do. On the field and in games, sometimes last year the younger guys wouldn’t really decipher it. Now we understand it right away because of the terminology.”
Mathis said the team knows it must improve in the run-scoring department, and that’s been a major focus for months.
“Our goal this year is to be the No. 1 run-scoring offense (in the SEC),” Mathis said. “Batting average can be whatever it is. But RBI and runs is where we want to be at the top of the list for sure. That’s where you win games, by scoring runs. The pitching staff is going to be tremendous, and our defense is going to be great again. So I think overall this is one of the best teams we’ve had.”
Godwin reiterates what Mathis said, and agrees the players have made a jump this year in all things offense. He believes that will show up throughout the course of a long season from now through June.
“Year two means a lot of older guys know what I expect,” Godwin said. “I was actually listening to Tanner over there a minute ago (talking to other reporters), and I was going ‘That was good, Tanner.’ The returners have done a tremendous job taking the younger guys and even the junior college guys under their wings and telling them how we do things and helping them out. It’s been nice to have other assistant hitting coaches (players) on the field.”
Ole Miss opens with three games this weekend at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field. TCU will, as the Rebels are so familiar with now, present a tremendous challenge. Ole Miss played the Horned Frogs five times last season (going 2-3) with another scheduled game rained out. Mathis is looking forward to a major challenge coming the Rebels’ way so early in the season.
“I love starting out and playing a great team early,” Mathis said of the SEC-Big 12 matchup. “Getting thrown into the fire, so to speak, to see what we’re made of. I think playing a team like that now can be helpful to us.”
And run production will be a big key for the Rebels.