Sitting atop the Ole Miss lineup and the first to dig into the batter's box, a conscious effort to be aggressive early in counts from shortstop Grae Kessinger has led to a productive beginning to his sophomore campaign. And on this day in particular, it netted a 4-for-5 day at the plate with three runs scored in an 8-6 win over Memphis.
"I'm just trying to be aggressive," Kessinger said. "That's really all it is. Let the swings take care of itself. Don't overthink it and just play ball like I have my whole life."
Kessinger tattooed the first pitch he saw in the game to left field. His second at-bat he laced a double early in the count that put Memphis in a second-and-third situation with no one out.
"He's getting a lot of good swings off," head coach Mike Bianco said. "I even said that in the first two games when he didn't necessarily get a ton of hits but was getting good swings off. That has really been the difference this year. Last year, he looked like a freshman at times. This year he is getting a lot of hits like tonights and getting some really good swings off."
It isn't just fastballs either in the leadoff slot. He got inside a breaking ball for the extra-base hit and took it the opposite way down the line in right.
"First-pitch breaking ball he hit well tonight," Bianco said. "He is really seeing it well."
The benefit of Kessinger's production as the leadoff hitter? Nick Fortes for starters. Kessinger's first hit set the table for Fortes to demolish a first-pitch fastball over the left field fence and give starter Houston Roth an early cushion.
"It was a fastball right where I like them," Fortes said. "I knew that one was out."
The junior catcher made Memphis' second-and-third predicament in the third inning prove costly as well when he clubbed a changeup into the Ole Miss bullpen for his second home run of the night. It blew the game open at 5-0 in favor of the Rebels in the third. Fortes was 3-for-4 with six RBI.
"I kind of needed that breakout game," Fortes said. "I needed a night like tonight to get me going."
Ole Miss plated four runs total in the third, and it was enough for Roth to leave the game after four innings with a 6-2 lead. Roth struck out six in his 77-pitch outing, and his lone blemish came in his final inning when he left one up in the zone to Tiger hitter Kevin O'Keefe, whose two-run shot put Memphis on the board. The sophomore righty battled through some long innings when the Rebels were scoring runs and Memphis was changing pitchers to earned the win in his first career start.
"I felt good," Roth said. "I wasn't fatigued as the game wore on."
Memphis slowly clawed its way back into the game to a degree with a run in the fifth to make it 8-3 and one more in eighth to shave the deficit once more. Will Stokes took the ball from Greer Holston in the eighth and inherited a two-on, no-out situation with the Tigers trailing by four. The senior righty whiffed O'Keefe--who had already homered in the game--for a big first out and then induced two fly balls to allow Ole Miss to escape the jam.
"I really thought that was important," Bianco said. "If you're going to have a good bullpen, guys have to come in and put that fire out. Come in with runners on when the fire is hot and deliver some pitches. Will did that."
Memphis threatened with two more in the ninth, but All-American closer Dallas Woolfolk relieved Stokes in his second inning of work and put out the last necessary proverbial fire to preserve the team's fourth win of the year.
It's the third time in four games Ole Miss has recorded double-digit hits. With the well-documented struggles at the plate in 2017, this has certainly been a positive sign for Bianco in the early stages of the season.
"We think we have a good offense," Bianco said. "What I am really proud of is we've done it with a lot of different people. It hasn't been the same guys every night."
Fortes described the early success at the plate best, attributing it to guys getting experience under their belt and growing as hitters as they get deeper into their careers.
"We are a little more mature," Fortes said. "We are not letting at-bats early in the game get to us late. We are learning and adjusting as the game goes on and I think that has been the biggest difference."
By Brian Scott Rippee
OXFORD, Miss - Grae Kessinger got just enough of the bat on a breaking ball on the outside corner from Winthrop's Dalton Whitaker. The ball squirted towards the hole on the left side and grazed the outstretched glove of Eagle shortstop Mitch Spires. Tim Elko scored comfortably from third and Jacob Adams slid his hand onto home plate from second base.
This two-RBI base hit in the seventh inning of the series finale helped the Ole Miss clinch an opening weekend sweep for the third connective season.
"I was just trying to move the ball any way I could," Kessinger said. "A lot of off-speed was coming in as he was trying to get a big strikeout. I was just trying to get a barrel on it, found a hole."
A Whitaker wild pitch earlier in the at-bat moved Elko and Adams up a base, setting Adams up to be aggressive and snag the lead with an insurance run attached too.
"I knew it was going to be a close play," Adams said. "Coach Clement sent me and I just went all out. I knew it was bang-bang and thought I was safe. They looked at it, and sure enough, I was safe."
The play was so close it required a lengthy replay review that confirmed the original call. Head Coach Mike Bianco liked the aggressiveness of his team on the base path.
"My takeaway is how aggressive we were in all phases," Bianco said. "I thought guys took the extra base and were really aggressive."
It was a late breakthrough in what was an otherwise more difficult day at the plate for Ole Miss as it faced Winthrop ace Nate Pawelczyk for the first six innings of the game. The right-hander had good control of his fastball and slider, turned in six innings of one-hit ball and gave his team a chance. Ole Miss stayed patient and cracked the code to the Eagle bullpen upon Pawelczyk's exit.
"It takes all kinds," Bianco said. "They run out their ace today and we knew it would be a challenge. We didn't quite get the swings off that we did in the first two, a lot of check swings and unsure swings today. That shows you how good he really is. We didn't have many opportunities. Grae gets two strikes with their closer in. We talk about winning those little battles and that is one of them."
Conversely, the Rebel bullpen carried the baton after James McArthur exited after the fifth inning and allowed just two Winthrop base runners over the final four frames. McArthur admittedly did not have his best stuff, and his fastball command was not quite as precise as it usually is, but he still managed to give five strong innings and allowed a single unearned run on four hits.
"Coach B is always talking about making a pitch to get out of the inning," McArthur said. "I put myself in some predicaments today, got behind on some guys, but I was proud of the way I battled. Getting my stuff back into the zone was the biggest part."
McArthur stuck out seven and walked three.
"He was able to take their blows," Bianco said. "Sometimes you have to do that. You don't have your best stuff and have to battle and compete. He really did that."
Jordan Fowler turned in two innings of scoreless relief in his Ole Miss debut. Will Ethridge worked around a two-out base hit for a clean eighth inning and Dallas Woolfolk slammed the door in the ninth for his first save of the year.
"When you look back, over 27 innings we only gave up one earned run the whole series," Bianco said. "When you're in game three and have Dallas Woolfolk and Will Ethridge that haven't thrown yet, you get to the seventh inning and it has been a pretty good weekend for us on the mound. There is no one better at the end than Dallas. As a coach, it makes you feel good when you have a lead and you are running him out there in the ninth."
Aside from the fielding mishaps Bianco alluded to, it was a solid weekend on the mound and at the plate for the Rebels. Ole Miss tallied 17 runs on 30 hits, and it came from all over. Thomas Dillard had a three-hit night on Friday that also saw Tim Rowe club a three-run bomb to give some early run support to Ryan Rolison. On Saturday, the three new entrants into the lineup--Cole Zabowski, Tim Elko and Chase Cockrell--went 6-for-10 with four RBIs and five runs scored. Kessinger and Fortes each had a four-hit weekend.
It was an eclectic blend of veterans and newcomers producing at the plate.
"It was really that way the whole weekend," Bianco said. "Every new guy that batted got a hit."
Winthrop recorded four runs on 15 hits and only one was an earned run charged to the Ole Miss staff as Bianco mentioned earlier. Fowler filled up the zone in his first look at game action, as did Parker Caracci, who pitched a scoreless ninth on Saturday night in his first career appearance. Houston Roth and Ethridge looked similar to their productive form in 2017, and it all resulted in Ole Miss sweeping a Winthrop team projected to win the Big South Conference this season.
"I think one of the big takeaways is that so many guys played well and looked like they belong," Bianco said.
Ole Miss returns action on Tuesday against Memphis. Houston Roth will have the baseball for the Rebels. First pitch is slated for 4 p.m. CT.
OXFORD, Miss - The pitch came out of Winthrop's Colton Rendon's hand at 81 mph with the intention of breaking but hung as it floated towards Cole Zabowski at the plate. The sophomore first baseman turned and crushed it into the right field bullpen for a three-run shot in the second inning to put Ole Miss on the board in its 8-1 win over Winthrop on Saturday night.
"Once the right fielder got close to the wall I knew it had a chance," Zabowski said. "I was just trying to go up there, do some damage and get the job done."
Set up by a pair of two-out base hits from Ryan Olenek and Chase Cockrell, it was the second game in a row that Ole Miss put together a three-run inning with two outs. The Rebels have nine RBIs and 10 runs with two outs in their first two games of the season.
"That is big," head coach Mike Bianco said. "One of the talks we had early this year in the three weeks leading into the season was about getting the timely hit, and we have to win those battles. We have to extend innings. Everyone looks at batting average. That is the easy stat, but what can be misleading is can you put innings together? Can you finish innings off? As an offense it is huge. It is also defeating for the other team because you are an out away from finishing the inning, but you can't. Someone gets a clutch hit. We seem to have done it terrifically tonight and last night."
Six of the Rebels' eight runs came with two outs. They chased Rendon in the sixth inning while charging for two more runs in the process.
"We believe we are a good offensive team," Zabowski said. "We work really hard in the offseason to have nights like this. It is a big confidence boost."
Zabowski was one of three new entrants in the lineup along with freshman third baseman Tim Elko and designated hitter Chase Cockrell. Those three hitters went a combined 6-for-10 with four RBIs and five runs scored. Cockrell went 3-for-3 and Zabowski was responsible for all four RBIs.
"It's nice because it isn't just new guys," Bianco said. "It's Cole Zabowski and Chase Cockrell too that had big nights tonight that didn't start opening day but were here last year. That is neat to see."
Bianco has put out two pretty differing lineups the first two days that saw Ryan Olenek play second base on this night and Tim Rowe play right field. The lineup hasn't missed a beat from an offensive standpoint in either game.
Freshman Michael Spears got in on the fun too when he launched a double into the right field corner in the seventh inning that plated Nick Fortes and served as the Rebels' final two-out RBI of the night.
The early run support was more than enough for junior righty Brady Feigl who turned in six innings of shutout ball while scattering six hits.
"I had a ton of help around me," Feigl said. "The defense was stellar. Fortes behind the plate was a wall. That definitely helps. I was happy with the outing and getting out of there without allowing any damage.
Fiegl worked out of a couple of different jams and used his slider to freeze Cale Gibson to help get out of a two-on, no-out jam in the fifth, and induced a ground ball that turned into a 4-6-3 double play in the fourth. Winthrop had its opportunities, but Feigl thwarted them each time.
"I was happy with it," Feigl said of his slider. "It needs to get a tick more consistent but it is getting there. I thought it was good. It worked for me today."
OXFORD, Miss - A dominant summer in the Cape Cod League brought forth some lofty expectations for Ole Miss' Ryan Rolison, something he's never shied away from.
The sophomore lefty certainly lived up to them on opening day as he put together a dominant 12-strikeout performance in five innings of one-hit ball in a 7-3 win over Winthrop.
"I felt great out of the gate," Rolison said. "I was able to find my fastball out of the gate along with my slider."
Rolison battled his way through a 22-pitch first inning and cruised for the final four frames he was in the game. He filled up the zone and went straight at the Winthrop lineup with 55 strikes in 81 pitches.
"I had a little bit of adrenaline in the first inning with it being opening day," Rolison. "But I was able to battle, found my slider and just filled up the zone."
The Eagles put only three balls in play against Rolison, who faced 18 hitters on the night and walked just two. He kept the Eagles off balance all evening with his fastball, slider and a changeup he's worked hard to develop further in the offseason.
"It was kind of boring in left field honestly," sophomore left fielder Thomas Dillard said jokingly. "He struck out 12 in five innings. A guy like that is fun to play defense behind. He stays in the zone and his stuff is just electric. On a Friday night like this, that is definitely the guy you want on the mound."
Rolison didn't put his defense to work too much, but that was just fine with third baseman Tyler Keenan, who made a dazzling play on a ground ball in the seventh inning with Houston Roth on the mound.
"Ryan is filthy," Keenan said. "That is all I have to say. He's one of the best pitchers in the country, one of the best in this league. He's just nasty."
Rolison exited after a pair of strikeouts in the fifth, which was part of a pitch-count plan, according to head coach Mike Bianco, given that it is early on in the season.
"There are times where he made it look pretty easy," Bianco said. "That's why he has all the accolades. He has great stuff. He pitched well tonight."
Keenan and Dillard had a productive day in their own right. Keenan's first collegiate hit came in his first at-bat. The freshman third baseman crushed a fastball down the right-field line that plated two and gave Rolison an early cushion.
"They were working lefties inside," Keenan said. "I kind of capped it a little bit, got the first two RBIs to get us going it felt good."
Dillard went 3-for-4 and his trio of hits was a nice start to the year for a guy who is expected to be a productive force in the middle of the lineup this season. It certainly helps for confidence early in the season. Dillard said he saw a lot of off-speed pitches hitting in the four-hole and certainly did well by taking what was given to him.
"It felt really good," Dillard said. "Last year didn't go how I wanted it to go. I have just been focusing on forgetting about the past and putting the ball in play to help my team out by not striking out. I think I did a good job of that today, but I need to come back and be even better tomorrow."
Ole Miss got the timely hits on this night. All nine Rebels recorded a hit. Keenan and Cooper Johnson got two apiece. Ole Miss was able to put together at-bats with two outs. A pair of two-out base knocks from Dillard and Nick Fortes in the third set the table for senior designated hitter Tim Rowe to demolish a ball over the fence in right-center for a three-run home run and the team's first long ball of the year.
"We were able to get the timely hit tonight, the two-out hit," Bianco said. "We bunched hits together which we did not do last year. We talk about maxing it out. There are so many in-game battles we didn't win last year. We had opportunities and we didn't finish off innings in the field or at the plate. We did that tonight."
After two quick fly ball outs to start the frame, the Rebels forced Winthrop starter Zach Peek to unravel quickly and blew the game open early on. Peek was chased after five innings. He was charged with six runs on eight hits.
Houston Roth relieved Rolison in the sixth and went three innings in which he let up two runs that were both unearned on two hits. Will Stokes finished the game off in the ninth and the Rebels moved to 1-0.
"We played pretty well tonight," Bianco said. "It was a nice night offensively because it came from some different people."
In our second installment of Rebel Alums: Where are They Now, we take a look at the All-American twin duo of Marcel Thiemann and Chris Thiemann.
In 2012, Marcel Thiemann became the fourth player in Ole Miss men's tennis history to earn All-America honors three times. Thiemann also became the third player to earn All-SEC first team honors three years. He helped lead the Rebels to their 19th consecutive NCAA appearance and the program's 16th Sweet Sixteen showing. He ended his career ranked No. 22 in singles and No. 11 in doubles, with his brother Chris Thiemann. The duo made the finals of the 2011 ITA National Indoor, won the 2012 SEC Indoor Championship, and capped a great career reaching the NCAA Final Four in doubles.
A three-time ITA Scholar-Athlete and Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete of the Year finalist, Marcel graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2012 with a degree in Managerial Finance. He earned an MBA in 2013 followed by a Masters in Accountancy.
He lives in New York City where he works as an Assurance Senior Associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
Catching up with Marcel Thiemann
How often do you play tennis?
Not as much I would like to (once or twice every two weeks)
What's your best shot?
Return and backhand on the rise
What do you do otherwise?
Member of the corporate soccer league team
Aspirations for the future?
Success in my career and looking forward to having a family in the future
Do you still follow the Rebels?
Yes, I live stream all season matches
What do you miss the most from living in Oxford?
The people, the food and the beautiful campus
Do you keep in touch with the team?
Yes, I try and keep up with teammates and the coaches as much as possible
Next Oxford visit?
Chris Thiemann became the 27th All-American in the history of the program in 2012, teaming with his brother, Marcel Thiemann, to advance to the NCAA Final Four in doubles. He ended the year ranked No. 11 nationally in doubles and helped lead the Rebels to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen for the 16th time.
Off the court, Chris was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll three times, an ITA Scholar-Athlete twice and a member of the University Honor Roll every semester. He graduated from the University of Mississippi in May of 2012 with a degree in Managerial Finance and earned his MBA in 2013. In May of 2015, Chris received his Master's in Accountancy and currently works as an Assurance Senior Associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in New York City.
Catching up with Chris Thiemann
How often do you play tennis?
I'm trying to play once every two weeks
What's your best shot?
Forehand down the line and volleys
What do you do otherwise?
Soccer, mentor high school students
Aspirations for the future?
Making partner at PwC
Do you still follow the Rebels?
Of course! I always follow the live blog/video.
What do you miss the most from living in Oxford?
The southern food and hospitality
Do you keep in touch with the team?
Yes of course, Coach T (Toby Hansson) stayed with me in the fall for the US Open
Next Oxford visit?
Hopefully this spring for a couple of home matches
With the first pitch of the 2018 season just days away, check out the much-anticipated walk out music list. Which song is your favorite? Let us know on Twitter by tagging @OleMissBSB and using the hashtag #RebWalkOuts.
#1 Jacob Adams: "Bar, Guitar, and a Honky Tonk Crowd" by Whiskey Myers
#2 Ryan Olenek: "Danger" by Migos and Marshmello
#3 Anthony Servideo: "Soul Survivor" by Jeezy
#4 Emanuel Fernandez: "Public Service Announcement" by Jay Z
#6 Thomas Dillard: "Blessings" by Lecrae and Ty Dolla Sign
#7 Nick Fortes: "Night Call" by Migos and Steve Aoki
#8 Will Golsan: "Silence" by Marshmello
#9 Michael Spears: "Good Life" by Kanye West ft. T-Pain
#10 Tyler Keenan: "Finesse (Remix)" by Bruno Mars ft. Cardi B
#11 Chase Cockrell: "Kings of Summer" by Ayokay
#12 Greer Holston: "Closer" by Lemaitre
#13 Cooper Johnson: "With My Team" by Creek Boys
#14 Cole Zabowski: "Crew" by Goldlink
#15 Grae Kessinger: "Butterfly Effect" by Travis Scott
#17 Will Stokes: "Icky Thump" by The White Stripes
#18 Connor Green: "Believer" by Imagine Dragons
#20 Will Ethridge: "Godzilla" by Blue Oyster Cult
#21 Jordan Fowler: "Metalingus" byAlter Bridge
#22 Ryan Rolison: "Silence (Codeko Remix)" by Marshmello ft Khalid
#24 Dallas Woolfolk: "Bad Company" by Five Finger Death Punch
#25 Tim Elko: "Highway to Hell" by AC/DC
#26 James McArthur: "Loud and Heavy" by Cody Jinks
#27 Bryan Seamster: "Lose Yourself" by Eminem
#28 Austin Miller: "Shoot to Thrill" by AC/DC
#29 Max Cioffi: "Chicago's Finest" by Yoshi
#31 Colin Coates: "Arsonist's Lullabye" by Hozier
#32 Michael Fitzsimmons: "Great Example" by Kevin Gates
#33 Golston Gillespie: "Changed" by Gucci Mane ft. Big Sean
#39 Brady Feigl: "Ain't No Grave" by Johnny Cash
#40 Houston Roth: "Slow Ride" by Foghat
#41 Pierce Smith: "No Option" by Post Malone
#42 Tim Rowe: "Danza Kuduro" by Don Omar
#44 Carl Gindl: "Whatever It Takes" by Imagine Dragons
#56 Matt Myers: "The Biggest in the World" by Changer
#65 Parker Caracci: "May We All" by Florida Georgia Line
By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com
Mike Bianco spoke with a sense of excitement in his voice as he stood at a podium in the Diamond Club seating area at Swayze Field at media day. Ole Miss opens its 2018 season against Winthrop on Friday afternoon.
The Rebels return seven starters in the field from a young group last season and also return the bulk of their pitching both in the rotation and bullpen.
Bianco gave a preview of a potential starting lineup, starting with the outfield. Thomas Dillard will be the opening day left fielder, Will Golsan will be in center and Ryan Olenek will man right field. Olenek played center field in 2017, but Bianco anticipates the junior to play some infield as well and preferred to have some stability in center field, hence the flip between Golsan and Olenek. Aside from that, it is the same outfield personnel-wise from last year.
With Colby Bortles and Tate Blackman being the only everyday position players Ole Miss needed to replace, both of the open positions are in the infield at second and third base. At third base Bianco said both Tyler Keenan and Tim Elko could see action there this weekend. Both are freshmen and Keenan bats left-handed. Jacob Adams and Anthony Servideo will be the primary candidates to replace Blackman at second base. Servideo is a true freshman out of Miami, Florida, and Adams is a junior by way of Crowder Community College. A healthy Grae Kessinger returns at shortstop and Nick Fortes will play first base after sliding over to that position from catcher last year. Cole Zabowski could also see time at first base as well. Sophomore backstop Cooper Johnson will be behind the plate for the Rebels as well.
Bianco said lefty Tim Rowe and right-hander Chase Cockrell will see time at DH this weekend, giving him two solid bats with some power and a match-up option depending on the opposing pitcher.
"Chase had a great fall, and Tim showed us what he could do last year, and look for him to add to that his senior campaign," Bianco said.
Ryan Rolison will grab the baseball for the Rebels on opening day. The sophomore lefty is coming off of a dominant summer in the Cape Cod League and has plenty of experience pitching in the SEC after sliding in to the rotation early on in SEC play last year.
"Last year, as good as we were on the mound, we weren't good enough to compete on Friday night in the SEC," Bianco said."And if you want to compete in our league, you have to compete on Friday night and I think Ryan gives us the best shot to do that right away."
Rolison's developed his changeup as a formidable third pitch along with a really good breaking ball.
"It has come a long way," Rolison said. "I feel comfortable throwing it for a strike in any count. I have gained a lot of confidence in it."
Junior righty Brady Feigl will start on Saturday and fellow junior right-hander James McArthur will be getting the nod on Sunday. Feigl got a taste of the rotation a year ago, but was mostly an effective option for Bianco out of the bullpen and all 12 of McArthur's outings in 2017 were weekend starts.
"The biggest thing for me going back into the fall was gaining consistency with my slider," Feigl said. "When I was good last year, I had my slider. It bumped up all of my other pitches."
This group has 14 upperclassmen compared to six from a season ago and has a lot of talent on the mound mound in particular.
All-American closer Dallas Woolfolk and senior Will Stokes are experienced pieces on the back end of the Ole Miss bullpen and the team also returns the likes of sophomores Will Ethridge and Houston Roth who were effective for the Rebels out of the pen as freshmen. Bianco said freshman left-hander Jordan Fowler turned some heads in the fall and that fellow freshman Max Cioffi pitched well, too. Throw in an experienced junior in Connor Green and Cal Ripkin Summer League Pitching MVP Parker Caracci, and Bianco will have a number of options to go to in the later innings.
"When you look at the pitching staff, they really did pitch it pretty well last year," Bianco said. "I think we were ranked fourth in the SEC in ERA, and we return seven of the nine best earned run averages from last year. An experienced staff, and experienced position players usually makes for a pretty good team."
Ole Miss tweaked the top of its lineup a good bit last year as it tried to find a natural fit at leadoff hitter. Golsan and Olenek spent time hitting in the leadoff spot, but ideally Bianco would like to slot them behind the leadoff guy and is hoping one of the candidates at second base could assume that role.
"Leadoff is the tough one," Bianco said. "I think there's a good chance that one of those second basemen, maybe Servideo or Adams leads off opening day, but we'll have to play with it. Some of those other guys that run well probably aren't your prototypical leadoff guy, like Olenek and Golsan. They're good hitters, but I think Servideo and Adams did that for us, and I think they're ready for that position."
Bianco is excited with the fact he returns a lot from last year's team as this was not the case this time last year with the number one-ranked recruiting class headlining a slew of newcomers. There's a nice blend of experience and depth on this team.
By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com
One of the first things Andy Kennedy said on Monday afternoon following the announcement that he would step down at the end of next season is that he felt a sense of calmness and peace about this imminent reality.
Last Saturday afternoon in the hours before Ole Miss lost 82-66 to LSU in Baton Rouge for its 5th consecutive defeat, Kennedy got the opportunity to catch up with former LSU head coach and current Tiger radio broadcaster John Brady, a man who has known, supported and mentored Kennedy since he was in high school.
Brady asked Kennedy if he was alright, knowing the weight of a disappointing season can carry. That's when Kennedy realized there was an "ominous cloud" forming over his future and the future of the program. He woke up Sunday morning with a sense of conviction that it needed to be addressed. After a conversation with Vice Chancellor for Collegiate Athletics Ross Bjork, a decision was reached that this season would be Kennedy's last in Oxford.
"The thing I love about Andy, he is a realist," Bjork said. "He is not afraid of expectations. He is not afraid of reality... We met again on Friday and discussed the last few weeks of this season and then he called me on Sunday and said he was ready to step down at the end of the season. We both agreed it was best for the program.
These final six games of the season will mark the end of a remarkable 12-year-run in which Kennedy brought stability to a program that had never felt consistent success. He arrived in 2006 to an old, gloomy office inside an outdated building in which the team practiced and played its games in. He'll leave behind a 51,000 square foot practice facility and a $96 million arena.
If those two buildings aren't enough of an indicator of Kennedy's remarkable success, his on-court accolades speak pretty loudly as well. He's the all-time winningest coaching in program history and is responsible for a quarter of Ole Miss' NCAA Tournament appearances. Kennedy compiled nine 20-win seasons in his tenure. In the 96 years before his arrival, the Rebels had a total of seven. He owns a winning recorder over 10 of 13 SEC schools and only two SEC schools have won more games than Ole Miss during Kennedy's tenure-- Florida and Kentucky. It's worth noting that while the Rebels sit third in the SEC in wins in the Kennedy era, its resources and assistant-coaching salary pool rank towards the bottom.
Ole Miss Basketball looks a lot different both internally and externally now than it did a dozen years ago. Kennedy laid a foundation for success at Ole Miss and faced an uphill battle the majority of the way. He no longer feels that's the case and thinks the program is ready to take the next step forward. He raised expectations amongst the fans and that is part of what led to this crossroads.
The only mention of regret was that he won't be the guy to help the Rebels make that leap.
"The landscape has changed and I think, honestly, the foundation is set. It is ready to take that next step.," Kennedy said. "I am regretful that I couldn't get it there, but I am also accountable for that. I want to see it get there and I think that it can."
Kennedy has always been honest, up front and self-aware about things, and that is largely what drove this decision to happen now. He felt as if it was becoming a distraction for his players and the program and that a sense of tangible sense of clarity regarding the future was the only way to address that.
"I have always prided myself on being direct and being accountable and with that I would like to address this ominous cloud that seems to be hanging over this program," Kennedy said as he opened the press conference. "I woke up Sunday morning with a true conviction that there needed to be some clarity as it pertains the future of Ole Miss Basketball."
Bjork spoke about what is next for the program is it tries to take that next jump forward and acknowledged some things will need to be addressed in order for that to happen.
"We are going to ask donors to invest in this program," Bjork said. "That is obviously resources, money, we now that the salary pool needs to be increased. We are going to look at what the market is telling us. Money is a part of it, but also mentality. We need our fans to continue to make this a home court atmosphere.
Kennedy took the program on quite a ride and one of the benefits of going in this direction in Mid-February is the ability to reflect on his 12-year journey over the final weeks of the season.
"Whether he likes it or not, we will walk down memory lane these next few weeks and thank him," Bjork said. "He deserves that."
Kennedy won 21 games in his first season in Oxford and posted 11 straight winning seasons after Ole Miss had endured four consecutive losing seasons before his arrival. He was a two-time SEC Coach of the Year and won an SEC title as part of a 27 win season in 2013.
He reached the the NCAA Tournament twice with the help of some prolific scorers in Marshall Henderson and Stefan Moody, along with the school's all-time leading shot blocker in Reginald Buckner and all-time leading rebounder Murphy Holloway. Those were exciting and entertaining teams that helped the program reach one of its highest peaks of success, with Kennedy's vibrant personality and sharp sense of humor at the helm.
When asked if he would like to coach next season, Kennedy didn't want to venture too far into the future and his joking nature surfaced once more.
"I would like to coach today," Kennedy said. "I am going to coach today. Ross just made me put a jacket on."
He didn't want to reflect on the past on this day either, but said there will be a time and a place for that. Whenever that moment is for Kennedy, whenever it is he does decide to take a moment to look back on his 12-year run, it will consist of mostly fond memories of a run of consistent success that hadn't been achieved before, making that sense of peace easier to maintain.
"I have been truly blessed to have the opportunity to be a head coach in the Southeastern Conference in my home state for 12 years," Kennedy said. "That is a true blessing, this I know."
The final edition of our Ole Miss softball preview looks at the Rebel outfield, a speedy and athletic group that head coach Mike Smith is excited about heading into the 2018 season.
Left Field: Elantra Cox
The senior is an electric leadoff hitter that batted a staggering .429 and accumulated a NCAA-leading 93 hits for the Rebels a year ago. Cox is a speedy defender as well as a nightmare for opponents on the base paths. Cox swiped 25 bases in 32 tries in 2017. She's got great hands and struck out just 30 times in 233 plate appearances. She was an invaluable piece at the top of the Ole Miss order and will be again this season as well as a plus defender with a lot of speed.
Center Field: Kylan Becker
Becker is probably the best overall athlete on the roster. She played right field predominantly a year ago and hit .375 with two home runs and 31 RBIs. Becker and Cox accounted for 165 of the team's 495 hits and the pair are a strong tandem in the Ole Miss lineup. She'll make the transition from right field to center in an effort to replace Miranda Strother. Becker will play for the US Women's National Team this summer and will be an athletic defender as well as a productive hitter for the Rebels in her junior year.
Right Field: Celeste Wood/Kaylee Horton/ Mary Terral
You'll likely see all three of these players in right field in some capacity this season. Smith called Wood - a junior transfer from Michigan State - one of the best pure hitters on the team. She hit .387 for the Spartans a year ago and has a good enough bat to be able to stay in the lineup pretty consistently. Horton is seen as a quality defender and will be a valuable utility piece for the Rebels this season across the diamond. Horton could potentially play third base, shortstop or second base if needed. She hit .270 in 126 at bats a year ago. Horton is a good defender and makes the Rebels a better defensive team when she is inserted into the lineup. She gives Smith a lot of flexibility of what he can do on a game-by-game basis. Terral is a true freshman from Ruston, Louisiana that will have an opportunity to play in mulitple different spots in the outfield if needed.
This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future!in post Evan Engram Hauls in Midseason Accolades
Fiftyyears fan said:
How can you have five straight top 25 recruiting classes and look as bad as Ole Miss has this year. Easy lack of coaching fundamentals. Look at Mason at Vandy, nothing but 2 and 3 star recruits out of high school and he developers players that want to win. Hugh freeze has 3, 4 & 5 recruits and he expects them to win because of what they were in High School. Mr. Freeze you have not been teaching the fundamentals of football or winning in life. Mr. Freeze you have quit on your players because you have some false expectations of what they are instead of what you can develop in them. Either do your job or quit. Oh yea, please quit running your smoke and mirrors offense, everyone has figured it out. Run a physical offense that can open up holes for your running backs and then your pass attack want require 12 are 14 four and five star receivers. Mr. Freeze you have problems and you need to know that you are not smarter than the rest of the coaches in the SEC.in post Rebels Unable to Send Senior Class Out on a High Note
Karen Holden said:
Not every pass can be caught. Too low, too short whatever. Not every Kelly pass is perfect. Records were broken by receivers also. But they sre not going to catch every ball thrown. The loss to Auburn was not one players fault. You win or lose as a team.in post Late Mistake Spoils Chad Kelly's Historic Performance
Trent browning said:
Hey I was just wandering if these are the only 2 olemiss players signing. If there are more signing please respond to me ASAP. Also wondering if neil everett will sign any autographs. Thank you very muchin post Heisman House Tour Heads to Oxford for Ole Miss-Georgia
I like what you guys are up too. Such smart work and reporting! Keep up the superb works guys I have incorporated you guys to my blogroll. I think it will improve the value of my sitein post Madden 17 Ratings for Former Rebels
Jamie laverty said:
Bulmer I love you and ole Missin post Fast Runner From Down Under
Sharon Hamlin said:
Hi! Really Bulmer is very fantastic & dedicated in his job. Really outstanding & well done... :-)in post Fast Runner From Down Under
Sharon Hamlin said:
Hi! Really motivating post & outstanding job did Bulmer .Loved it... :-)in post Fast Runner From Down Under
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