Ole Miss officially announced the hiring of Kermit Davis to be the school's next head men's basketball coach. Davis arrives in Oxford after serving as the head coach of Middle Tennessee State for the last 16 seasons.
"I'm incredibly honored and excited to be the basketball coach at the University of Mississippi," said Davis. "We are extremely grateful to Chancellor Vitter and Ross for giving me the opportunity to lead such a prestigious program in the best basketball league in America. Coming back to my home state of Mississippi to build a national brand is absolutely a dream come true for us. I am Mississippi Made and cannot wait to join the rest of the Ole Miss family."
Davis is an eight-time coach of the year in three different conferences and guided the Blue Raiders to the NCAA Tournament in 2013, 2016 and 2017 with wins over two-seed Michigan State and five seed Minnesota in back-to-back seasons. Middle Tennessee won its conference seven of the last nine seasons with Davis at the helm.
Davis has helped a total of five programs win conference championships in his 34-year coaching career that has included stops at Idaho and Texas A&M. Davis currently has 403 career wins which ranks 34th among active head coaches.
"After assessing the entire landscape of college basketball and speaking to basketball experts across the country to determine the greatest fit for Ole Miss Basketball, the answer was clear - Kermit Davis is the best coach and best leader to take our program to the next level in the SEC and NCAA," Vice Chancellor for Collegiate Athletics Ross Bjork said in a statement. "Combining his brand of play and his proven ability to build a model basketball program, Coach Davis has established himself as a leader and winner in college basketball. Over the last several weeks, we consistently heard that other coaches `never want to play his team,' and his record confirms that. Coach Davis also possesses a great sense of purpose for his program and does it the right way off the court. During the process, Coach Davis' energy, drive, and vision for our program was unmatched, and we can't wait to welcome him and his family back to the great state of Mississippi and into the Ole Miss family."
Here is some reaction to Ole Miss' hiring of Davis, a Mississippi native returning to his home state.
In our third installment of Rebel Alums: Where are They Now, we take a look at two-time All-American Bram ten Berge.
2009 was a banner year for Bram ten Berge capped by winning the Boyd McWhorter SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award as the top male student-athlete in the entire league.
The two-time All-American ended the year ranked No. 3 in the nation in doubles and spent 14 weeks ranked No. 1 in the nation. The All-SEC first team selection and team captain helped the Rebels advance to the NCAA Elite Eight for the ninth time and earn a final national ranking of No. 4. Ten Berge also helped lead the Rebels to the SEC regular season championship with an undefeated league record, their second consecutive SEC Tournament Championship and their eighth straight SEC West title. In addition, he teamed with Jonas Berg to capture the ITA All-American Championship in doubles in the fall of 2008.
In 2008, ten Berge paired with Matthias Wellermann to reach the semifinals at the NCAA Doubles Championships, earning All-America honors. The duo just missed out on making it an all Ole Miss final and assuring the Rebels of the title.
Additional academic honors include an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship in 2009 and induction into the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society in 2008. Ten Berge was also a four-time ITA Scholar-Athlete and the 2006 SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year for men's tennis.
Ten Berge graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2009 with a degree in Classics and in December of 2015 earned his PhD. in Classical Studies at the University of Michigan.
He is currently a living in Holland, Michigan and is a professor at Hope College.
Catching up with Bram ten Berge
How often do you play tennis?
Once a week or so
What's your best shot?
What do you do otherwise?
Aspirations for the future?
To continue building my career and family, with as many adventures along the way as possible
Do you still follow the Rebels?
Yes, go Rebs!
What do you miss the most from living in Oxford?
The friendly people, being part of the team, and the lovely campus and town
Do you keep in touch with the team?
Yes, but it depends on where we live at any particular time (which has been many places in the past 5-6 years)
Next Oxford visit?
Ole Miss is now knee deep into spring ball and endured its fifth practice on Wednesday afternoon. Head coach Matt Luke says he has been pleased with the development of some the younger players in the early stagesof spring ball.
"The energy has been good," Luke said. "A lot of young guys have gone out there and shown the willingness to take coaching. That is really what I am looking for is to see who will step up. Which one of the young guys is going going to step up and play for us. Who of the older guys are going to step up and lead us? These are the things I am looking for."
The coaching staff has gotten its first glimpse of four-star quarterback Matt Corral over the last week. Luke says he's shown flashes and the talent is definitely there. It is about the consistency that welcome as he gets more acclimated to college football.
"He's been good," Luke said. "Maybe a little inconsistent through four days, but he should be in high school right now, so for him to be out there running the offense with the number two's is great. He has gone out there and made some really good plays and really good throws. A lot of it is installing the offense and there is a learning process there."
Corral has made a couple of complex reads and identified coverages well, which has allowed him to show the strength of his arm.
"The arm is really good," Luke said. "He is really talented. He can make all of the throws and has really good arm strength. It is can he be consistent? He has done well so far."
Defensively, Luke said he has been pleased with the linebackers, arguably the most important position for the Rebels to develop in the spring and into the fall.
"They're eager to learn and I thin they know everyone is watching them and their development. I think they have a chip on their shoulder and I like that about the group right now. They are making process and trying to get each other better," Luke said.
Detric Bing-Dukes and Willie Hibbler have been running with the first team, but the competition has been heating up.
"We need some size in the box," Luke said. "We need to be physical there. There is a lot of competition. Sanogo has been coming on strong. I have been really pleased with him."
The biggest surprise to Luke so far? Running backs Isaiah Woullard and junior college transfer Scottie Phillips.
"To me they have really flashed in the first four days," Luke said. "Those guys have hit a couple creases and have been really impressive."
The team has had the luxury of continuity in the sense that the same coordinators are still here and the same systems are in place. Its made installing packages easier as guys have retained information easier and made things room more smoothly.
"There is a lot of retention," Luke said. "Your day one install is actually probably three days worth of install compared to last spring just because there has been so much carryover. That is a positive."
The Rebels will be off at the end of this week through next week and will return the week after for nine more practices leading into The Grove Bowl.
Thomas Dillard demolished a pair of fastballs in the second and third innings of Ole Miss' 11-4 win over Austin Peay on Tuesday night and nearly singled handedly gave Houston Roth a 5-1 run lead by collecting those four RBIs.
The first of the two shots was a solo job to the left-center gap that got out of the stadium quickly on a low trajectory. The second was a towering club over the railing and well into the student section in right field. He rebounded from an 0-12 weekend by doing damage to Governor Starter Kyle Wilson's line early.
"It's always nice to bounce back," Dillard said. "You're going to have those weekend sometimes where everything isn't going right for you. You just have to try to focus on the next. Fame and the next pitch to try to help your team out as much as you can."
Dillard was more pleased with the former home run, the shorter one, because of what he tried to improve on in what was a productive offseason for the sophomore outfielder.
"I was a little more proud of the opposite field one because I have been working on that all year," Dillard said. "Hitting it out that way was cool."
Roth waded through the first four inning with relatively little trouble and entered the fifth with a 5-1 lead. Austin Peay strung together four connective two-out hits after a walk and chased Roth from the game after plating three runs. Will Stokes took the baseball from there, escaped a two-on, two-out jam by freezing Malcolm Tripler with a 1-2 breaking ball. He thwarted all Governor momentum and put up two more scoreless frames after that to preserve a one-run lead into the eighth inning.
"Stokes didn't pitch this weekend and I do not know the last time he did not pitch on a weekend," head coach Mike Bianco said. "I knew he could come in and come in early whenever there was a threat. He was as sharp as he has ever been. We needed that."
Ethridge put up another zero in the eighth, setting the table for the offense to blow the game open in the later innings as it seems like has happened quite often this year. Ole Miss hung six runs in the eighth inning to put away the Governors and it came in a variety of different ways. Cole Zabowski started it with an RBI base hit to center field that plated Will Golsan - who had a second consecutive multi-hit game. Chase Cockrell smoked a double down the left field line as part of a 3-3 evening with an RBI. Tyler Keenan then stepped in and launched the Rebels' second three-run homer of the game to open the floodgates.
"Our pitching is always talked about, and rightfully so because I think we have the best pitching staff in the country," Dillard said. "But our hitting has just been awesome. One through 17 or 18 there is not let up. For us to show up every time through 12 games has been great and I think it is going to continue."
He had a two-hit night as well. Ole Miss' offense has come from all over through 12 games, and on this night hit a lot of balls hard as the wind gushed out to right-center.
"That's kind of been us," Bianco said. "I think that's why we have been so good offensively is that it has come from a lot of different sources. It isn't just one guy that is out of this world with six or seven home runs. It just seems like every night there is a different contributor offensively, and in a big way."
Ole Miss hits the second leg of a five-game homestand on Wednesday against Little Rock. First pitch is slated for 6:30 p.m.
Armani Linton just wanted to help out any way he could. He wasn't getting as many reps in practice last fall at his natural position of safety and he wanted to do more.
"I was sitting around not doing much, so I told the coaches 'hey let me run scout team or do something to help us get better for the next opponent.' It just kind of took off from there," Linton recalled.
He began by imitating Alabama's Jalen Hurts on scout team offense and then would do the same for opposing running backs Ole Miss was game planning for each week. His speed and natural athleticism stood out so much it caught his coaches' attention.
"All the defensive coaches in the fall came to me bragging about how well he was portraying one of the opposing running backs for whatever defense we were playing," running backs coach Derrick Nix said. "All of a sudden it caught fire. He just wanted an opportunity to help this team more. He's already done a great job on special teams and if there is an opportunity for him to help us at running back then lets give him a shot and see what he can do."
After the season ended, the Nix and Linton discussed moving positions, something Linton was certainly open to. From there the transition began. He began doing drills to prepare to be a running back.
"I like it a lot," Linton said of the change I talked to Coach Nix about it in the fall and he thought I could help the team there. That's really what I'm trying to do is help this team any way I can and put myself into position to make more plays."
Linton played running back in high school out of predominantly an I-formation. It's enough experience for him to feel comfortable transitioning, but there is still a lot to learn from the playbook to the pace to blitz packages.
"It's a totally different offense," Linton said. "In high school I was in the I-formation and everything was under center. Just getting used to the steps and signals from the shotgun and different stuff like that, the progressions too. Other than that, it is just being physical and trying to do my assignment."
Nix is pleased with the swift strides Linton is making. Head Coach Matt Luke described Linton on Monday as a gifted athlete who the team "got on the bus" by getting him to campus, they just needed to put him in the right seat.
"He looks promising," Nix said. "He is athletic, fast, big and we are figuring out the little things like running with low pad level. He's picking up the offense well and working really hard at it."
Linton admits he has a lot to learn and has an entire offseason to do it. He's enjoying his new home and embracing the challenge.
"It's a new position so naturally it is going to be tough," Linton said. "Overall, I feel like I am grasping it pretty well. I try not to let my mind get too ahead of things. I am letting it come to me and not rushing anything. I am trying to be patient when I am back there. That is the main thing."
Thomas Dillard turned to Nick Fortes in the dugout in the early innings of Tuesday's game against Murray State with the Rebels trailing 4-0 and had a message for the junior catcher.
"I told him we were going to win this game," Dillard recalled. "It's going to be late and we are going to have to really fight, but we have to win them all. Coach Bianco tells us we have to win games of all kinds."
Dillard certainly did his part, as did his teammates after the Racers put up a four-run first inning with the help of a Davis Sims three-run shot over the left field fence off Houston Roth. It was the first time this team had been in a hole all season, but it settled in. Roth put up three quick zeroes over the next three games as the Rebels felt out Murray State starter Luke Brown.
"He hung in there," head coach Mike Bianco said. "I think he retired 13 of the next 14 or something like that. He showed why he was a freshman All-American. That may have won the game right there."
A Cole Zabowski two-out RBI base knock in the fourth got Ole Miss on the board. An inning later, Dillard dug in with the bases loaded and one out. Chance Carner relived Brown. He took a change up over the plate and Dillard demolished it down the right field line for a bases clearing, three-RBI double that changed tied the game at four and seemingly put some life into the Rebel offense.
"He was throwing a little harder than the other guy," Dillard said. "I took the first pitch and then he threw me a change up and I was able to get my head out and hit it down the line."
Nick Fortes hustled around third base and ran through a stop sign, but beat the tag and capped a momentum-swinging play in the ball game.
"He was being held up and should've stopped," Bianco with a wry grin. "So I am just thankful he made it."
The Rebels plated four in the inning and took a 5-4 lead. Murray State answered with a run in the seventh to tied it a five and another in the eighth to take a 6-5 lead as rain began to fall. But Ole Miss continued to find ways to answer. Grae Kessinger drew a two-out walk in the eighth, stole second base and scored on a Ryan Olenek base hit. The Rebels have had a knack for making things happen with two outs through eight games.
"You need games like this," Dillard said. "It teaches you how to win. They aren't all going to be cake walks. You need to be challenged."
The team loaded the bases in the ninth with the game tied at six. Tyler Anderson threw a wild one to the backstop and Dillard - who was standing on third after starting the inning with a leadoff base hit - raced home and beat the tag on a close, game-deciding play at the plate.
"I knew I was safe," Dillard said. "It was a close play and Coach Clement was telling me to be ready for anything and I was able to get in there."
Dillard sparked Ole Miss each time it needed on on the night. He was 3-4 with 3 RBIs
"The whole game it seemed like everything started and finished offensively with Thomas," Bianco said. "Stealing bases, scoring at the end, three hits. He did it all tonight."
It was admittedly not Ole Miss' cleanest game as Bianco said, but the team found a way to win a wild midweek game to get out to its best start since 2008 at 8-0. It will hit the road this weekend for its toughest test yet at Long Beach State.
"It was just one of those game, a crazy games you see in the midweek," Bianco said. "I am just proud of our guys for hanging in there."
First pitch on Friday in Long Beach is at 8 p.m.
The focus will be on players and not plays, Ole Miss head football coach Matt Luke proclaimed at his Tuesday press conference opening spring football, referring to how valuable the 15 practices the Rebels get are to developing younger players and building depth heading into the fall.
"We have a nice mix of experience yet are also focusing on some young guys and new guys getting quality reps and building depth," Luke said. "We really want to get these young guys reps to see what they can do."
While Luke noted the staff will expand on new schemes implemented last year on each side of the football, the continuity of having the same coordinators still in place will put them further along and leave more time for developing young talent.
"Since we kept the same systems we are going to be much further ahead from a schematic standpoint so we want to get these young guys who either redshirted or were on scout team last year some reps and work on building our depth," Luke said.
Luke went over who of the returning players will and will not participate in spring practice based on various offseason surgeries and injuries. Below is a list of where the players stand:
Out: Dawson Knox, D.K. Buford. D'Vaughn Pennamon
Limited: Alex Givens, Demarcus Gregory (knee), Scottie Phillips, Sean Rawlings.
Out: Austrian Robinson, Benito Jones, Qaadir Sheppard
Limited: Ken Webster (groin), C.J. Miller
"They have minor injuries from training the last month and will be limited to start. It is nothing serious," Luke said of the limited participants. He also noted that he does not fear anyone missing time in the fall despite being held out for the spring.
This spring season will give the coaching staff a glimpse at a couple of players at new positions, like Armani Linton, who will transition from safety to running back in an effort to build depth with the departure of leading rusher Jordan Wilkins.
"He's just a big, talented athlete," Luke said. "When you have guys like that on the bus you just want to find the right seat for them. He is a very big athlete and is very intelligent. I think he can help us somewhere. He really came on last year on special teams. I think he needs to play somewhere and we are just trying to find the right spot."
Linton could move back to safety depending on how the transition goes, but Luke is optimistic this will be a good fit.
Brenden Williams moved from linebacker to defensive end and newcomer Vernon Dasher will move from linebacker to star, a hybrid linebacker with more coverage responsibilities.
Along with Linton, newcomer Scottie Phillips, who will be limited at the beginning of spring ball, is expected to immediately compete for playing time at running back. Phillips comes in as the number one rated junior college tailback in the country and will be thrust into a mix consisting of D'Vaughn Pennamon, Eric Swinney and D.K. Buford.
"Anytime you take a junior college player you are expecting him to compete for playing time," Luke said. "That's what we want to see. He is the number one junior college running back in the country. There is going to be a really good competition at running back."
Defensively, the number one priority will be developing linebackers, a spot in which Ole Miss lost leading tackler DeMarquis Gates and a position the Rebels were slightly thin at last season. Luke feels confident about veterans Detric Bing-Dukes and Willie Hibbler at this position, but after the addition of a recruiting class that brought in a slew of new linebackers he is excited to see what some of the younger guys have to offer at this position.
"Detric and Willie will start there, but really Mohamed Sanogo, Josh Clarke and Zikerrion Baker are the guys we want to see what they can do. It is going to be a huge spring for them," Luke said. "We have more guys coming from high school but they are not here yet. We really want to see what these young guys can do. I am cautiously optimistic about those guys because they have waited their turn. They have gotten stronger and have been in the system. I am excited to see them out there making calls and flying around."
Aside from that, Luke would like to put his stamp on this football team, something that was difficult to do in 2017 without an offseason to prepare. He wants to build on the momentum the end of the season brought and take full advantage of the 15 practices allotted to the team.
Mike Smith sits at his desk and stares intently at his computer screen in his office one afternoon in early February. A 2018 season with lofty expectations attached to it is set to begin in Gulf Shores, Alabama in a couple days and Smith is meticulously charting film before practice.
On the wall behind him hang three paintings, one of his son, Tyler, jumping on his back after Ole Miss won a regional it hosted last May, one of his team hoisting its 2017 SEC Tournament Championship Trophy and one of the SEC Championship ring itself.
Naturally, Smith is faced the other way staring at film in preparation for what is next, with those memories hanging in the background.
"We're no longer the hunters," Smith said. "We are the hunted. We have to bring our best every time we play."
His desk and the rest of his office look like something out of a magazine. Not a pen or sheet of paper is out of place or straying from its intended position. It's a microcosm for how Smith operates, a meticulous and detailed oriented coach with constant tunnel vision towards his next challenge.
"I always take the philosophy that someone is doing more than me," Smith said. "I am an early riser. I go to bed a little earlier than most, but I still try to stay late as much as possible. I feel like I never get enough done during the day."
A native of San Diego, California, Smith is the son of a military man. His father, Robert, served in the Navy and later became a systems analyst at North Island Naval Base in San Diego where he worked closely with Navy seals. Mike sometimes would accompany his father to work. A lot of his teachers and youth sports coaches were active or retired military members.
"Being able to be around Navy Seals and watching what they go through on a daily basis makes you appreciate everything that you do and the details that go into things," Smith said.
Smith learned from observing his father as well and often thought of following in his footsteps. He played baseball in college and was hours away from enlisting in the Navy after his phone didn't ring during the MLB draft.
"I was literally hours away from going to the recruiting office for the Navy and signing up. Something told me 'no, don't go yet,'" Smith recalled.
He ended up signing with the St. Louis Cardinals, which gradually led him into a career in coaching baseball and eventually softball.
The structure and discipline that is ingrained into Smith's military background and up bringing are also at the core of his coaching philosophy. As Ole Miss Softball continues on its meteoric rise, it has become more evident that traces of Smith's military roots can be found all over a program he's built from the ground up.
"It was just watching my dad on a daily basis. You tucked your shirt in and your belt buckle was fastened a certain way," Smith said. "That is just how I was taught. I try to instill that in our players today. Sometimes they are like 'Coach why is that a big deal?' It is a big deal to me because that is part of that structure and discipline and doing things the right way. If you do those things right you don't have to worry about what you are doing on the field in a game. That will take care of itself."
Smith's no stranger to a bare cupboard. His first coaching job came at Biola University, where he inherited a club team that was transitioning to varsity and boasted an all-time record of 17-121. In Smith's first season they went 22-23. A few short years later, he won a national title.
"I knew I could coach," Smith said. "I knew what I wanted and what I could get out of my athletes. If they can walk and talk, I can at least train them up to compete. They may have been the most talented kids in the world, but they understood what we were trying to do and worked really hard."
When Smith took over a floundering program in Oxford with no tangible evidence of success to point to, he asked his players to buy into his philosophy knowing it was not for everyone. He asked them to go all in and "function as one unit," as former player Miranda Strother recalled.
"There is some head butting sometimes with players because that is not what they grew up with in their own families," Smith said. "My own kids sometimes have issues with that too because their friends aren't parented like that. But I said that is the way we are going to run this family and they respect that."
It wasn't a seamless transition by any means and Smith knew it wouldn't be easy on the players, but the repeated struggles of the program's past made it all the more necessary.
"He came in and wanted to completely transform the culture," former catcher Courtney Syrett said. "Obviously, anyone who changes the norm, people aren't going to like that. It didn't separate us as a team but rather showed light on the people that were all in."
Syrett and Strother were seniors on the 2017 team's historic run to the first super regional in program history. They were also around before Smith came and had a front row seat to the program's evolution.
Smith's practices utilize every second allotted to him on the field. He creates an environment of "controlled chaos" with the philosophy being that if his players can perform in the adverse practice situations, the games should come as second nature. He sends his players the practice itinerary each day so they can prepare accordingly.
"We know what we are wearing a month in advance and know exactly what we are going to do," Strother said. "He sends us a practice schedule each morning so you are ready to go and completely prepared once you get there. That is nice because you can get your mind right for that type of defense or this hitting session. It is nice knowing what we are doing. We didn't have that structure before and he plans down to a tee."
Smith's first season in 2015 saw just about every major offensive school-record get broken. His second saw the team win its first postseason game in program history in a regional at Oklahoma.
"When we made that first regional at Oklahoma that is when I knew we could compete with anyone," Syrett said. "That helped us so much going into last year."
There was finally something tangible to point towards the method to his madness.
"He told us 'I have seen this work.,'" Strother recalled. "This is how we are going to do it. You are going to have to trust me.' It was a trust thing."
Those two seasons parlayed into 2017, the most successful season in program-history. In three short years, Smith took a program that had never scored a run in the SEC Tournament to an SEC Championship and a regional in Oxford.
For as much as Smith leans on structure, discipline and accountability, he knows there has to be a balance. He lets his players play freely, chanting in the dugout, letting their emotions come out in a controlled and productive manner. As hard as the practices were, this team had an aura about them that reached people across the country.
"I think the best part of this summer was the constant communication with people telling us how much fun we were to watch," Smith said. "I even had fans of teams that we played say they were rooting for us after the fact because they wanted to see a Cinderella story."
When the Rebels jetted across the country to Los Angeles to play UCLA in a pair of nationally televised super regional games on ESPN, the moment wasn't too large for a team that had never been in that kind of spotlight.
"He left room for us to be who we are," Strother said. "He had us in the place where we were all level headed. Practice like a champion, play like an underdog. You go into the game with the mentality. We had nothing to lose."
Strother and Syrett graduated after the 2017 season and sometimes find themselves a little surprised of how far they came from a woeful freshman season.
"If you asked me during my freshman year if I saw us not only playing in a regional but hosting and having that many people packing the stands, lines of people outside your game, I would have never imagined that," Strother said. "I knew there would be a culture change and things would be different, but it far exceeded my expectations."
It didn't come as a surprise to Smith, however. It was merely a part of the plan, one that is still unfolding and isn't nearly complete.
"Coach Smith is a visionary," Strother said. "I think he expected this. He's thinks this is great and all but he wants more. He thinks we have more to show."
Smith's father passed away in August, two months after the most successful season of his son's career. Ole Miss playing in Los Angeles allowed him to make it to a game and be a witness to it. He fell ill in between game one and game two and was hospitalized with Mike's mother at his side.
"My dad had an enormous influence on me," Smith said. "It was pretty special for him to be able to see that."
Robert retired as an honorary Navy Seal. He's buried in Rosecrans Military Cemetery, the final resting place of over 20 medal of honor recipients. Fencing and trees line most of the cemetery's borders but Robert's plot is near the end of a row where the trees dip down below fence level creating roughly a 10x10 gap that overlooks downtown San Diego and North Island Naval Base. Here Mike can visit and peacefully gaze at all of the things that made him the coach he is today.
The timely hits just keep coming for No. 9 Ole Miss.
A Thomas Dillard walk loaded the bases one at-bat after Ole Miss had chased Tulane starter Keegan Gillies who had turned in six innings of one-run ball scattering four hits to that point. Senior center fielder Will Golsan dug in and laced a 1-1, 90-mph offering into left field for a two-RBI base hit that gave the Rebels their first lead of the day.
"I was just trying to stick to my approach and keep finding solid contact," Golsan said. "One finally fell. You just have to stay within yourself, tell yourself it is going to come and keep competing up there."
Two batters later Cooper Johnson lifted his second home run of the weekend into the left field bullpen to blow the game open at 6-2. It was the second day in a row Ole Miss put up a five-spot in the sixth inning and let its bullpen seize control of the game the rest of the way. This team has frequently found the timely hit when needed through the first seven games of this season and Sunday was just the latest piece of evidence to back it up.
"I knew I had it off the bat," Johnson said. "The vibe in the dugout is that the offense is going to move runners along, get a bunt down or do something. One through nine there aren't really any holes. It's a pretty safe and reassuring feeling. You don't have to do something special every single time. Someone is going to have your back behind you or in front of you. It is pretty special."
Johnson's first two career home runs both came this weekend as a highlight to what has been a much quicker start at the plate for the gifted sophomore catcher.
"It's just confidence," Johnson said. "Hitting before the game and in the mornings, sticking to the process and not trying to do too much. See the ball and hit the ball. Trying to find a fastball early in counts and adjusting to the breaking ball."
His head coach has seen Johnson hit well the last two fall seasons and seen him rebound from some natural freshman struggles from a year ago.
"Last year was a little tough on him," head coach Mike Bianco said. "He plays with emotion and wants to do so well, to fall off a little offensively last year, that hurt him. But he has gotten off to a great start this year and really looks good."
The first five innings the story was on the mound. James McArthur battled through an early run in the first to put up four scoreless frames to match Gillies, whose lone blemish came in the fourth when Dillard demolished a fastball well over the right field wall. McArthur exited the game in the sixth with the Rebels trailing 2-1. He scattered six hits and yielded a single earned run in an outing stronger than the box score would lead one to believe.
"I thought he was really good today and that is a really good offense over there," Bianco said. "They pressure you in a lot of ways. They get a lot of good swings off and some scary swings. They are very physical in the middle of the lineup. They have six or seven guys in the middle of the lineup that you really have to pitch to. I thought James was excellent."
Jordan Fowler and Greer Holston helped the Rebels strand a pair of runners in two different innings and Dallas Woolfolk's fourth save completed Ole Miss' second consecutive sweep to start the season 7-0 for the second time in as many years.
"I think you have to take it for what it is," Bianco said. "I think last year they didn't know what to expect. They had a lot of success in the first couple weeks and with all the accolades coming in I think people kind of anointed us and we didn't handle the adversity when it came. I think guys are a little more weathered than this year, but we will see. I like the way we are playing."
Ole Miss has played well in all three phases early on this season. The rotation has given up just two earned runs in 32.1 innings so far this season and the bullpen has put the clamp down on offenses to follow them in the late innings. The lineup is hitting well from Grae Kessinger--who has 13 hits in these seven games--at the top all the way down behind him. The middle of the order has proved to be physical and was the driving force behind the pair of five-run sixth innings the last two days.
"I think this has a different feel," Johnson said. "We are a really close team. Just the depth, the defense and offense and with our pitching staff. I have never played on a team like it. It is really special."
Ole Miss returns to action on Tuesday at home against Murray State before hitting the road for the first time this year next weekend with a three-game set at Long Beach State. First pitch on Tuesday is slated for 4 p.m. CT.
It was not quite the typical day at the ballpark for No. 9 Ole Miss, but it was certainly an efficient one as the Rebels put two in the win column over Tulane after Friday night's game was postponed in the fifth inning due to rain.
Game one of this series resumed at noon Saturday with Ole Miss clinging to a 2-1 lead. Will Ethridge replaced Ryan Rolison because of the overnight delay and put up scoreless sixth and seventh innings while Cole Zabowski and Cooper Johnson put a pair of 1-0 offerings in the seats in the bottom of the seventh for some needed insurance. Zabowski sent a fastball over the center field wall and Johnson placed a breaking ball in the Ole Miss bullpen in left field as part of a three-run inning that resulted in a 5-1 lead for the Rebels.
Ethridge ran into some trouble in the eighth when back-to-back doubles turned into a three-run shot from Matt Rowland that made it a 5-4 game, but Will Stokes and Dallas Woolfolk put the clamps on the Green Wave rally and secured the final six outs Ole Miss needed for the win.
After a 45 minute intermission between games, Ole Miss put up arguably its most efficient win of the year in which the offense exploded for nine runs and Brady Feigl turned in six innings of two-hit ball on just 73 pitches. Fiegl overcame an unearned run in a first inning that saw him strike out all three hitters and put together as efficient of an outing as he's had during his career.
"I think efficient is not even fair," Mike Bianco said. "He was super dominant against what I consider to be a good offense. It was a tough day to pitch with the wind gushing out and I thought he was electric, maybe the best outing he has had here and that is saying a lot."
The junior righty found his slider in the early innings and mixed the changeup in during the second and third time through the order. Feigl moved to 2-0 on the season.
"A big part of what they talked to me about is attacking the zone and trying to get ahead because it makes things a lot easier," Feigl said. "I think it definitely helped."
Oddly enough, Feigl's exit was due mostly to a long, five-run sixth inning the offense put together that blew the ballgame open. He certainly did not mind.
"When your offense does that it is hard to complain," Feigl said with a grin.
That's been the story in five of the six games the Rebels have played this season. The offense has backed the pitching staff with ample breathing room to operate, and the most encouraging sign to Bianco is that it is coming from all over. It's started at the top of the order with Grae Kessinger's 11 hits in six games. Kessinger homered in the bottom of the first in game two and sent a double off the left-center wall that brought another run across in the fifth. The sophomore shortstop has been as productive as Bianco could possibly ask for in the leadoff slot through six games.
Kessinger has taken an aggressive approach of jumping on fastballs early in counts and it's paid dividends.
"I am seeing it well and being aggressive," Kessinger said. "My swing feels good and it is all just working right now. Everything is going well and I just want to stick to my approach and keep being aggressive."
He's seeing pitches when he needs to, though. He worked a full count walk in the first game and has only struck out twice in 18 at-bats so far this year.
"I thought him answering in the first inning after we went down was huge," Bianco said. "He has had a lot of big hits for us early on this season."
Zabowski homered for the second time this year and Johnson's was the first of his career. Chase Cockrell went 2-for-3 in game two. He and Zabowski are a couple of batters in the middle of the Ole Miss order that have shown some pop along with Tim Elko and Tyler Keenan, which encouraged the Ole Miss head coach.
"You're expecting that from some of those young guys in Elko and Keenan," Bianco said. "We have some physical hitters in the middle there. He is off to a good start and swinging it well."
Aside from a lapse or two in a couple innings, Ole Miss has defended well this year and particularly this weekend. Thomas Dillard, Will Golsan and Olenek made plays that potentially saved runs in the outfield. Fortes started a huge 3-6-1 double play that got the Rebels out of a slippery spot in a one-run contest in the eighth inning of game one.
"I thought we were outstanding on defense," Bianco said. "One of the things I challenged and we wanted to improve was outfield defense. It's not that we were bad but the great teams have difference makers out there. We have a catcher and two shortstops out there and they make the regular play. Today, they made some great plays with Golsan making a couple of sensational plays as did Olenek, and Thomas made a great play on Friday night. Those change the game."
First pitch for game three is slated for game three is slated for 1:30 p.m. CT on Sunday.
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Tiffany J. Moore said:
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 much in 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 site in post Madden 17 Ratings for Former Rebels
Jamie laverty said:
Bulmer I love you and ole Miss in 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