PRIMER: this summer, I’m writing articles about how Ole Miss programs could potentially be better next season. This is, very specifically, putting on rose-colored glasses, something that is a little bit difficult for me at the moment given the state of things. There may or may not be bourbon involved in helping me get through these posts, but I do think it’s nice to looks for the hope in every program. So I beat on, boat against the current, born back ceaselessly by the WAOM.
Head Coach Mike Smith has consistently produced solid results at Ole Miss. I’m not going to rehash what happened before his tenure and what he has brought. Let’s just say Ole Miss softball, while technically existing since 1997 really began five years ago.
The 2019 season saw tremendous success, with the team ranked in the top 25 for all of conference play. The Rebels won more SEC games than ever before and earned their highest NCAA tournament seed ever at 11. Whenever a relatively unfollowed team does that, sudden fans are left to ask what next year will be like.
Well worry not, dear readers! This team lost just two contributors to graduation and sees itself poised for significant success with the #10 recruiting class inbound.
CF Kylan Becker
P/DP Brittany Finney
Rebs lose an All-American and a pitcher.
Of course the team won’t be able to replace Kylan Becker. The first-team All-American and member of the US National Team is superb behind the plate (where she hit .428 last season) and in the field (where she never committed an error in four seasons as a starting outfielder). She converted on 34-of-41 stolen base attempts and robbed two home run balls in her senior season. Becker is an irreplaceable legend. There will still be a center fielder next season, but no matter who that is, it will be a step down.
NEWS | Congrats to Brittany Finney on signing a professional contract with Scrap Yard Fast Pitch!— Ole Miss Softball (@OleMissSoftball) June 24, 2019
Finney joins Kylan Becker, who signed with SYFP in May.
https://t.co/GxYrKExaGE#CARE #HottyToddy pic.twitter.com/HCgjnHOnAg
Brittany Finney started the season as the No. 2 pitcher on the team behind Molly Jacobsen, but by the time the postseason was about to begin, Finney was definitely playing better softball. She pitched several gems and kept the Rebels in a lot of games. Her overwhelming power will be missed. Offensively, Finney is likely a bit more replaceable, as she actually finished the season with the lowest batting average among every day starters with (.197) and conference play wasn’t much better (.148).
Here’s hoping Mike Smith can find another bat that can contribute more on that end.
P Molly Jacobsen
1B Abbey Latham
RF Kaylee Horton
2B Jessica Puk
LF Tate Whitley
Molly Jacobsen needs to recapture early-season success.
Jacobsen was good all through the year, but late in the season she sprinkled in a few rough outings. For this team to succeed without Brittany Finney, Jacobsen needs to really step up and become the consistent, steadying force this team has had on the mound since Kaitlin Lee’s first year in Oxford. She’s certainly capable of that, but I think it’s safe to say that eventually the every day nature of SEC softball caught up to her.
The sophomore class is bonkers though.
I knew that the sophomores had already made an impact on this softball team, but before doing some analysis for this article, I didn’t realize just how much.
As you can see, the class has been prolific, leading all hitting statistics other than triples. Obviously, this is volume-based, as there are more sophomores playing major roles than any other class, but that’s pretty telling. That class is likely to become even more significant over the next two years, and when they graduate, there will be a lot to replace.
Last season, the team was super young and made a super regional. There’s a bright future here.
Mikayla Allee got better after a rocky start.
To be clear, Allee was never a problem in the fielding category. She was reliable at SS and even made a decent number of highlight plays. But before SEC play, she was hitting somewhere around .120 which, yeah, you read that right.
She finished the year hitting just .216 with a .405 on-base percentage, but think about what she needed to do in conference play at the plate to make that happen. What she needed to do, in fact, was hit .256, good for fourth-best on the team. On top of that, she had pivotal hits in huge moments through the season, which is something you don’t typically expect freshmen to do.
Allee has the shortstop spot locked down for the next three years, and that’s a great spot for the team to find itself in.
3B Paige Smith (No. 13 overall)
OF Nyomi Jones (No. 34 overall)
C/1B McKenzie Barbara (No. 70 overall)
Here’s how they fit to fill needs.
These three top 100 players that are very well-suited for the future of the team. Jones has a shot to start next season, as Kylan Becker leaves a spot in the outfield. Jones is very, very fast, something Mike Smith really wants in almost every player in his system.
Allison Royalty and Paige Smith talk about @Mercado2019's 1-0 win over @GAImpact00Lewis in the #PGFnationals 18U Premier national title game @PGFnetwork @FloSoftball #Softball pic.twitter.com/wshXSgd1C3— So Cal Sidelines (@SoCalSidelines) July 27, 2019
Paige Smith won’t be walking into the starting third base role next season, given sophomore Amanda Roth is there, but she’ll certainly have the opportunity to compete there and at first base. Smith won multiple national championships in high school and is known as a defensive superstar. It doesn’t seem likely that she’ll have a tremendous impact at the plate as a freshman, given she hit under .400 as a senior in high school, but she certainly seems capable of holding her own.
Barbara is an all-around good hitter, slapping 20 home runs in her final two seasons with a career .484 average. The catcher spot already features returning senior Autumn GIllespie, who hit .250 and led the conference with 13 runners caught stealing in 2019. But, with that said, Barbara will have a chance to try to crack the order as a freshman before Gillespie graduates.
Once Gillespie is gone, the catcher spot will be up for grabs, and having a real hitting presence there could be the right recipe for Mike Smith’s club.