Since Mike Smith arrived in Oxford, Ole Miss softball has been a program of firsts: first SEC Tournament win, first SEC Tournament championship, first Regional host, and first Super Regional. But 2019 blows the predecessors to bits.
The Rebels are on the verge of clinching a top-four seed in the SEC tournament; they’re ranked in the top 10, and they have 12 victories over ranked opponents. Ole Miss was 9-6 on March 1; now the Rebels are 36-13.
The consistency of 2019 outweighs the cinderella run of 2017. The 2017 postseason run caught lightning in a bottle—Kaitlin Lee—and powered the program to new heights. But 2019 is the better team; they’ve broken the school record for conference wins in a season, securing the program’s first-ever winning record in conference games. The Rebels haven’t lost a conference series yet.
Most importantly, it’s the closest the program has come to the balanced creation of havoc Smith covets, and the bulk of the roster has time remaining. There are menacing slappers, extra-base hits scattered throughout, a two-pronged pitching attack and young game-changing fielders populating the field.
The entire infield will return next season, so will two of the three outfielders. Incoming recruits feature arguably the fastest outfielder in the nation (Nyomi Jones, No. 41 overall in the Softball America Top 100), and one of the top-ranked infielders (Paige Smith, No. 18 overall in the Softball America Top 100).
The past brought the bright lights, and the present turned them on, but the future might become a bright and transformative neon. The Rebels will be knock, knock, knocking at Oklahoma City’s door for the immediate future, as they look to make the program’s first trip to the Women’s College World Series.