Ole Miss Breaks A Troubling Trend In Classic Rebels Fashion
For the first time since 2012, Ole Miss won its opening conference series. Kind of ironic for a team that made it to Super Regionals two years ago.
The Rebels took the conference opener against then-No. 18 Arkansas two games to one and they did it the only way they know how: Creating chaos.
Head coach Mike Smith likes to put his offense in motion as soon as runners get on which forcing the defense to make a play. It’s the style of play that put the Rebels on the map in 2017 when they ran through the perennial powers of the Southeastern Conference on the way to winning their first SEC Tournament.
Setting the table for the 25th-ranked Rebels is senior centerfielder and leadoff batter Kylan Becker. She has the talent to spark early rallies with her ability to slap for average and power. She leads the team with a .444 batting average, .519 on-base percentage, 32 hits, 24 runs scored, two doubles, four triples, a home run and 13 stolen bases in 15 attempts. She has only struck out five times 69 at-bats.
On Monday night, she was the No. 1 play on SportsCenter’s Top 10.
“It sure is nice when Kylan can get on base and create havoc and make things happen,” said Smith. “It just puts a lot more pressure on the pitchers and the defense to make plays.”
Becker knows that she needs her senior year to look a lot more like her First-Team All-SEC sophomore season. A year that earned her a spot on one of the United States National Teams.
“I definitely want to end on a better note,” Becker said. “I’ve worked on changing my mentality and being the leadoff now, I have to be the one that gets things going.”
Becker’s knack for getting on base has opened up opportunities for the rest of the lineup. Sophomre Abbey Latham has the second-highest average (.379) and leads the team in RBIs (20). Classmate Jessica Puk has surpassed her freshman numbers in half the amount of games. She is third on the team in batting average (.356) and has 19 RBIs. Junior Kaylee Horton isn’t too far behind them with 12 RBIs, her career-high is 18.
“We needed some more production down the lineup,” Smith said. “We did it sort of two-fold, to let (Horton) see a little bit better pitches and to put someone in motion.”
Defensively, the Rebels struggled early but that’s natural when players are in unfamiliar territory. Amanda Roth, the starting third baseman, went down with an injury and Puk filled in until she returned the first week of March.
But, the emergence of Molly Jacobsen and two-way ability of Brittany Finney has filled the void that Rebel-great Kaitlin Lee left when she graduated at the end of last season.
Finney is 4-4 with a 2.47 earned run average. She has appeared in 11 games and started seven and is hitting .229 with a team-high six home runs.
Jacobsen, a junior college transfer from Des Moines Area Community College, has exploded onto the scene with an 8-1 record and a microscopic ERA of 0.88.
“When you have somebody that understands the game. . . what you need to do to be successful, that’s who you want to give the ball to,” Smith said.
For Jacobsen, success tends to follow her. She was a two-time first-team All-American and the NJCAA Divison II Player of the Year in 2018. As a sophomore, Jacobsen walked only 14 batters in 163.2 innings, striking out 312 with an ERA of 0.47 for DMACC.
She doesn’t overpower anyone but she mixes speeds and hits locations.
“She may not be the fasting throwing pitcher, but she spins the ball and keeps hitters off balance,” Smith said. “The kid can pitch… she knows how to win and how to be successful.”
Earlier this season, Jacobsen took down a ranked Minnesota in her first start, nearly toppled a top-10 team in Texas and has only allowed more than one run in two of her nine starts. Her first SEC start on Sunday, a two-hitter with seven strikeouts in five innings.
As far as matching Lee’s performance in 2017, Jacobsen isn’t thinking about that. She just wants to help her team win whenever she is called upon but as she took the circle against Arkansas, it was definitely a dream-come-true moment for her.
“I (was) excited,” says Jacobsen. “I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time now.”