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Ole Miss Softball Opens 2015 Season at Kajikawa Classic

Courtesy of UM Communications
Courtesy of UM Communications

When the Ole Miss softball team takes the field for the 2015 season at the Kajikawa Classic hosted by Arizona State, it will be the start of the first season of softball under head coach Mike Smith.

While the task of building a program is tough, the Rebels will take the field with a head coach at the helm who has shown the ability to quickly build programs into contenders for championships. Ole Miss will also take the field with several players returning that give Smith options throughout the lineup and across positions in his first year at the helm.

“What’s been great has been that competition,” Smith said. “Some kids have probably won a spot in a few positions, but not one person has come out and really just secured a spot everywhere else. It’s been good to see the competition and a pleasant surprise. As a coach, you always love it when you have options.

“It’s about playing quality defense in the infield and we talk to the team about how it’s all about fundamentals,” Smith said. “It’s about creating a place where we will be fundamentally sound. Defense wins championships. Home runs are cool, but ultimately it’s about defense. If we play defense and limit runs then we will win ballgames.”

Returning in the infield for the Rebels is senior third baseman Allison Brown. Brown is the top returning hitter for Ole Miss after batting at a .338 clip in her junior season. She also delivered 28 RBI with 28 runs scored to lead all-returning players in both categories. Brown fielded at a .966 clip on the season at the hot corner and will anchor the defense in her senior campaign.

Also returning in the infield is veteran middle infielder Haley Culley, who will move from shortstop to second base for her junior season. Culley hit .301 a year ago with two home runs, 24 runs scored and 20 RBI. She also went a perfect 10-for-10 in steal attempts to pace the Rebels on the base path.

A pair of freshmen also have a chance to make an impact early for the Rebels this season with Grayce Majam and Alex Schneider figuring into the mix at shortstop and first base, respectively. Majam was the No. 38 recruit by Student Sports Softball, while Schneider was a three-time All-District selection in Texas.

Also slated to return at first base when not in the pitching circle is junior Madi Osias. The right-hander made 35 appearances in the field and hit at a .235 clip with 25 RBI, five home runs and 15 runs scored as a sophomore.

“In the outfield it’s the same premise and about being consistent,” Smith said. “It’s about communicating and being in the right place at the right time. We have to play the game the way it’s meant to be played. If I have to leave my feet in a certain situation, then I’m going to leave my feet. We talk about being consistent in our process. Everyone is a piece of the puzzle to completing the game and securing the win for us each game out.”

Several returning players will see time in the outfield with Alyssa Invergo, Jamie Morgan, Bri Payne, Melina Preciado and Miranda Strother factoring in for time with Strother making a strong case for centerfield.

Freshman Paige McKinney has also caught the eye of the coaching staff and is expected to make her mark in left field for the Rebels. McKinney is a two-time All-State selection in Mississippi and also was named to the Mississippi High School Athletics Association Fab 15 as a junior.

Junior Natalie Martinez and sophomore Courtney Syrett are expected to split time behind the plate through the early part of the season and keep legs fresh for the Rebels heading into the rugged Southeastern Conference slate. Martinez played in 25 games as a sophomore, while Syrett played in 27 games for the Rebels in her freshman season.

In the circle, the Rebels have a trio of players who seek to fill the innings pitched by departed senior Carly Hummel from a year ago.

Sophomore Emily Gaitan saw the most time in the circle of all returning pitchers with 73.0 innings of work a year ago on the way to a 3.93 ERA and 52 strikeouts. Osias, who also plays in the infield, returns with 41.1 innings of work under her belt last season and is expected to combine with Gaitan to give the Rebels what Smith characterizes as a solid one-two punch this season.

Senior Lauren Lindsey has also continued to develop and earn the praises of the coaching staff. Lindsey posted a 2.33 ERA through 21.0 innings of work a year ago and rounds out the pitching staff for the Rebels heading into this season.

Ole Miss opens the 2015 campaign on the road at the Kajikawa Classic with a pair of games on Thursday, February 5 against Oregon State and San Jose State. It will be the first day of action that will see the Rebels play six games through four days on the weekend. Ole Miss will also face No. 16 Arizona State, Fresno State, UC Santa Barbara and Western Michigan.

Courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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