The Ole Miss softball season kicks off today, and expectations are high. Last season, Ole Miss softball went 42-19 but ultimately saw its season end in the final of the UCLA regional with a 9-1 loss. The team showed it was capable of stunning upsets (like sweeping #19 Missouri) but also frustrating defeats (like being swept by #9 Florida in games that were mostly all out of hand).
In the offseason, the Rebels lost three of their top five batting averages (Bre Roper, Abbey Latham, and Sydney Guierrez) and two of their top three starting pitchers (Anna Borgen and Savannah Diederich). So why are expectations for this squad higher than ever?
Well, as is always the case, it’s probably because of both what the Rebels return and what they added. Crazy, right? With a holistic utilization of the transfer portal and a stunningly powerful freshman class, the Rebels managed to supplement an already strong group of returning players with lots of positional versatility and offensive firepower we haven’t seen much of in Oxford.
I have no clue about the order, but I’d guess the overall lineup looks something like this (we’ll see how wrong I am in a few hours when it’s posted).
1B Aynslie Furbush or Catelyn Riley (right out of the gate, this is the most wrong)
Last season, in her final season of eligibility, Sydney Gutierrez started every game at first base. Obviously she’s gone now. Head coach Jamie Trachsel hasn’t spoken about who will be playing which positions, and I’m sure these first couple of weeks of non-conference play are about figuring that out. I’ve got to put someone here though, and I’ll just put both of the two-way players in since Trachsel has expressed the desire to keep them both in the lineup when they’re not pitching. Can either play first base? No idea. Sorry, everyone. You can have the money you paid to read this article back I guess.
Both of these options are fine but Riley’s 1.061 OPS across 61 plate appearances a year ago makes her an incredibly intriguing player to find a spot for in the everyday lineup.
2B Keila Kamoku
Kamoku started 23 games at second last season and seems like the obvious choice to put here. She wasn’t excellent at the plate (.733 OPS) or in the field (.949 fielding) but was only a freshman and showed good promise of things to come.
SS Mikayla Allee
This will be Mikayla Allee’s fifth season as the starting shortstop at Ole Miss, and the Rebel coaches couldn’t be happier to have her back. Allee doesn’t actually hit the ball very well (.215 average last season) but finds ways to get on base at an epic clip (.394). She works counts and also gets hit... a lot. Last season, Allee was hit by pitches 18 times. Second place on the team for that stat was just 8. On top of that, Allee fielded at a .989 clip at shortstop, which is excellent.
3B Paige Smith
Smith had an adequate junior season with a .810 OPS, but it was a significant step back from the .951 OPS in her sophomore year. She’s very talented but needs to get back to walking more and hitting with power when she does make contact.
C KK Esparza
Esparza started 56 of 60 games at catcher as a true freshman and only committed four errors in 320 chances. She wasn’t very good at the plate, but the job is obviously hers to lose.
LF Savana Sikes
Here’s where we have our first new player. Sikes is a graduate transfer from Georgia who finished last season with a .285 average. She’s not a power hitter (.411 slugging) and doesn’t get on base at a crazy rate (.363), but she’ll bring a veteran presence to the position (if she wins the job).
CF Tate Whitley
If you don’t know who Tate Whitley is, I thank you for taking the time to read this softball article despite having no interest in the sport. Last season, Whitley led the Ole Miss team in batting average at .387. She got on base 44% of the times she stepped up to the plate. She did this.
RF Mya Stevenson
Stevenson is likely the best addition from the transfer portal as the senior from Marshall belted 19 home runs last year with a .771 slugging percentage (!) and still managed to hit .361. Stevenson is a very real reason to believe the offense could be strong this year as she’ll be asked to carry a lot of the load in terms of power.
DP Aynslie Furbush or Catelyn Riley
Whichever pitcher isn’t somewhere else in the lineup should probably be the designated player.
Other notable returning hitters
Outfielder Nyomi Jones came to Ole Miss with lofty expectations after being ranked as the #32 recruit in the country. She hasn’t ever really been able to get into the everyday lineup because of a relatively weak bat, but she did improve greatly there a year ago and could see another jump in a fight for the third outfield spot.
Infielder Angelina Deleon had a solid enough freshman year on the way to 38 starts and a .776 OPS. She wasn’t exceptional at anything but was solid in almost everything. She’s obviously competing for a starting role as well.
Transfer Jenna Lord started 30 games at Alabama a season ago, splitting time between second base and right field. Her .809 OPS probably does enough for her to start a good number of games this season as well.
Last year, freshman Brooke Barnard mostly only played as a pinch runner but did appear in 40 games. The reason I’m including her here, though, is simply hype. Barnard was ranked as the #11 recruit in the country and oozes with potential. We could see her break through this year.
I’ve mentioned Catelyn Riley and Aynslie Furbush already twice in this post, but here they are being relevant again, this time on the mound. Riley was second in innings pitched last year with a 3.46 ERA. She struggled with walks at times, but as a true freshman it was incredible. Furbush was fifth on the team in innings pitched but yielded just a 2.13 ERA. If she can do that in bigger situations, she could be the team’s ace.
But Makenna Kliethermes would like to end that talk. The senior transfer from Oregon started 16 games for the Ducks a year ago with a 3.65 ERA across 117 innings (including a complete game shutout against Ole Miss on opening weekend).
The Rebels also return Brooke vestal and Landyn Bruce, who are likely to pitch a good bit in non-conference play.
On top of bringing in several transfers, Ole Miss also signed the #3 class in the country. That’s.... not typical.
I’m not going to run through everyone because figuring out which freshmen will contribute is pretty tough in college softball, but the class is headlined by (national ranking in parenthesis):
Utility Jalia Lassiter (#19)
OF Natalie Ray (#24)
Infielder Grace Thompson (#28)
P Grace Sparks (#30)
Infielder Tenly Grisham (#42)
Catcher Mackenzie White (#52)
OF Taylor Malvin (#122)
Is signing six of the top 52 players good?
Ole Miss kicks off its season tonight at 8:30 PM in Puerto Vallarta against UNC. You can watch live with a subscription to FloSoftball.