Team Profile: Ole Miss Rebels

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A look back at 2019
Ole Miss finished the 2019 season with a 41-20 overall record, including a 13-10 showing against SEC opponents. The Rebels performed well at home – collecting a 23-4 record in Oxford – but struggled on the road, going just 8-11 in away games.

To begin the non-conference portion of the season, the Rebels took their first loss of the year in just the second game of the season, a defeat at the hands of Ohio State, but rebounded to record a victory over eventual Women’s College World Series-participant Minnesota. Highlights of the remaining non-conference schedule included a win over Oregon State and a pair of wins against Oklahoma State in a midseason tournament. The Rebels took hard, early losses to UCLA, Boise State, Tulsa, and a pair of defeats at the hands of Texas.

When they got to SEC play, the Rebels got off to an inauspicious start, losing to Arkansas in the first game of the conference season. The Rebels would rebound to take the series from the Hogs, going on to a streak of six straight 3-game series wins, including over Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee. A road series against South Carolina became a rain-induced two-game set that the teams split, while the regular season ended in a series sweep at the hands of Georgia.

At the SEC tournament in College Station, the Rebels recorded a decisive victory over archrivals Mississippi State before falling in a run-rule loss to Kentucky.

Named as the #11 overall seed for the NCAA tournament, the Rebels hosted a regional in Oxford. After dropping a winner’s bracket game to Louisiana-Lafayette, the squad came roaring back in the regional final, forcing a winner-take-all final game and emerging victorious on a 7th-inning walk-off. In the Super Regional round, the Rebels were outscored 14-3 against Arizona, losing back-to-back games to the Wildcats to end their season.

Roster turnover
Departures: Star outfielder Kylan Becker graduated following last season, as did pitcher/designated player Brittany Finney. Becker enjoyed arguably the finest career in Rebels softball history, while Finney’s breakout 2019 campaign really buoyed the team’s pitching staff. Additionally, 3/4 of the coaching staff departed during the offseason, leaving now-interim head coach Ruben Felix as the lone holdover.

Additions: The Rebels added six freshmen, as well as NAIA transfer pitcher Lindsey Johnson. The Rebels also added former Eastern Illinois head coach Kim Schuette as pitching coach, while Becker returned to the program, this time on staff as a volunteer assistant coach.

Strengths and weaknesses
Strengths – Becker was a major piece of the Rebels’ offense, but outside of her, the team returns the majority of the core offensive standouts. Molly Jacobsen earned second-team all-region honors after last season – her first as an SEC pitcher – and returns to lead the squad from the circle.

Weaknesses – The pair of graduated seniors – Becker and Finney – will each be hard to replace, while Jacobsen’s leg injury that lingered through much of last season remains a question mark. The Rebels are in a bit of turmoil after some offseason controversy, and play a tough conference schedule that includes Alabama, LSU, and Kentucky at home, with road series’ against Tennessee and Florida.

2020 outlook
Pitching –
Jacobsen pitched well in 2019, collecting fourteen wins and a 2.15 ERA. After recording 166 strikeouts, she collected a strikeout/walk ratio better than 4/1. She battled a leg injury last season, which remains something of a question mark as she shoulders an even-heavier load in 2020. Ava Tillmann and Savannah Diederich looked solid in limited action a season ago, and they figure to be the team’s top options behind Jacobsen.

Offense – The majority of the team’s offensive weapons return for 2020, including senior Kaylee Horton and junior Abbey Latham, who led the team in home runs a season ago. Infielder Mikayla Allee, then a freshman, really came into her own late in the season, while fellow underclassman Tate Whitley finished third on the team with a .290 batting average.

Coaching – In December, head coach Mike Smith resigned after several weeks on administrative leave, giving the Rebels even more offseason turmoil. Ruben Felix took over as the program’s interim head coach and will lead the Rebels in 2020. Felix’s staff includes Kim Schuette – initially hired by Smith over the summer – and Damon Haecker as full-time assistants, with Becker as volunteer assistant.

Wrap-up
The saga of Smith’s administrative leave, ultimate resignation, and the murky details surrounding the entire ordeal created a lot of offseason distraction for the club, though things settled down, for the most part, before the decade turned. There are definite on-field questions about the club as well, including the makeup and durability of the pitching staff & how the offense will replace Becker’s production and table-setting skills at the top of the lineup.

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