A month ago, I wrote an article about how Ole Miss softball had been a “mixed bag” so far.
Ernest Hemingway famously said, “the first draft of everything is shit.” Well, the first draft of this softball team wasn’t...great. But that Hemingway quote alludes to the future being better, and it has been.
The Rebels (25-9, 5-3 SEC) have faced top 25 teams nine times since that article. They’ve won seven of those nine games, including this past weekend’s series against No. 6 Florida and first team All-American pitcher Kelly Barnhill. Softball America now lists the Rebels as a top 10 team nationally, and in the excitement over that news, Ole Miss run-ruled Belmont in Nashville, Tenn. Tuesday night, 11-1 in five innings.
Things are just clicking and that’s a good thing, because it’s not getting easier. The team’s final five series are as follows: at No. 16 Kentucky, Missouri, at Mississippi State, No. 6 Tennessee, at No. 18 Georgia. The Rebels will have to be on its game to see this thing through to the end.
Ole Miss sits in fifth place in the SEC but are only a half game out of a tie for third place with Tennessee and Auburn.
Sure, the team’s good, but is it as good as Kaitlin Lee’s best team? You know, the one that hosted a regional and made it to the UCLA super?
In theory this 2019 team is actually better than that one. I know I’m not supposed to say that, but in my defense, I did say “in theory.” That negates any curses.
But seriously, the conference batting average of that team was .194(!), and the team conference earned run average was 2.92 so yeah, chill out. This 2019 team is hitting conference pitchers at a .228 clip, already having faced the best pitcher they’ll face... for over 24 innings. The conference ERA is 2.22 so far, with Molly Jacobsen’s 1.38 dwarfing Lee’s 2.18. So it’s better at pitching and hitting? This seems like a recipe for success!
The Rebels are also on pace to decimate that team’s home run total of 32 (with the 2019 team’s total already at 25). There’s more power here, and it shows. Three players (Abbey Latham, Jessica Puk, and Brittany Finney) have hit six or more home runs already this year. The 2017 team only saw one player hit that many (Finney).
Oh yeah, and Kylan Becker is also hitting .486. No wonder she’s a member of the US National Team.
So what does it all mean?
Look: I get it. Softball isn’t a “money” sport, and traditionally it hasn’t been good at Ole Miss (in fact it has been terrible). That’s just not the case anymore. The games are really fun to watch, and they’re pretty quick. If you haven’t watched a game this season, do yourself a favor. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve spoken with who were converted after watching their first game. Story lines abound.
Believe it or not, the Rebels saw their highest attended series this past weekend as it took down the Florida Gators. Nearly 3,500 fans attended the three games, so even attendance is picking up for this program.
This team has a shot to host another regional, and Mike Smith has commitments from two top-ten recruiting classes in a row over the next two years. This thing doesn’t look like it’s going to stop being fun to watch.