Mike Smith has won everywhere he has been. The new Ole Miss softball head coach has compiled a career record of 748-224 (.770 winning percentage) in 16 years as a head coach at the NAIA and Division I level. He also has an NAIA Championship to his credit. Despite all that success, his focus remains on the process of building a program.
"The Ole Miss program will be similar to what I was trying to build at McNeese State," Smith said. "I'm going to do the best I can to mold these kids into quality individuals as well as quality softball players, and become ambassadors for the game and for the university and try to win an SEC Championship. We're going to focus on the process. We're not going to focus on the outcome. We're going to focus on creating a great culture and take it one step at time and doing the little things to be successful.
"It's about getting better every day. I try to preach one percent better and give me 100 percent for that day, and let the rest take care of itself. We're going to focus on the little things and focus on the process. When we do those things, we're going to be successful."
Another part of the process is to engage Rebel Nation and grow the program's fan base as other Southeastern Conference programs have done in recent years, which centers on community involvement and outreach.
"We're going to get involved in the community, and we're going to be out and about," Smith said. "We're going to have open practices, and I'm going to invite them to come watch and see what we're about. I want us to be out there supporting our student-athletes on campus.
"We're going to be involved with the entire aspect of The University of Mississippi and Ole Miss athletics. Our softball team will be a part of Rebel Nation. With developing a fan base, wins and losses are part of that, but it's about getting people on board with your direction and what your plans are."
A program that has not advanced to the NCAA Tournament in its 18-year history, Ole Miss is coming off a 22-31 season, including a 3-21 mark in SEC play, but Smith knows the promise and potential of the program. He saw it from the opposing dugout when McNeese State played at Ole Miss during the 2012 season. He also knows it from conversations with his fellow SEC coaches.
"Ole Miss is rich in tradition, just athletics in general and the history of the university, and competes in the SEC," Smith said. "It's considered one of, if not the top conference in America. I have really good friends who are coaches in the SEC, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to coach against them. I respect them so much, and they have been mentors to me. Now, I'm going to be in the opposing dugout and coaches' box and coach against those people who I respect tremendously."
Among them are Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly, who has followed a similar career path to Smith, from an NAIA Championship at Pacific Lutheran, to continued success at Chattanooga, to six Women's College World Series appearances and two national runner-up finishes at his most recent stop with the Lady Vols.
Smith turned California Baptist into a softball powerhouse, having led the Lancers to eight consecutive NAIA World Series appearances and an NAIA national championship in 2009.
From there, he left his San Diego roots for McNeese State in Lake Charles, Louisiana, to begin building his Division I coaching career, as he guided the Cowgirls to back-to-back Southland Conference regular season championships.
"I took a leap of faith and left a pretty good job in California to come to McNeese State and try to build a program and have success there and see what happens," Smith said. "I wanted to give myself an opportunity to do that.
"Every step of the way, at the different jobs and the different responsibilities I have had, and the different people I have made contact with, and what my players have taught me over 16 years of coaching has prepared me and molded me for the opportunity to coach at Ole Miss and build this program into an SEC and national contender."
Chris Ellis, one of 21 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award honoring the nation's top player, will get the start for Friday's NCAA regional opener against Jacksonville State, head coach Mike Bianco said Tuesday.
Despite suffering his first loss of the season against Arkansas at the SEC Tournament, Ellis has turned in a quality start in each of his last seven outings. Ellis has formed a strong 1-2 punch on the mound with Christian Trent, as they have combined for a 17-1 record through the regular season and SEC Tournament.
Ellis ranks eighth in the SEC in ERA (2.17), while Trent ranks 13th (2.44). Trent also ranks 10th in strikeouts (67) and third in fewest walks allowed (16).
Trent was scratched from an SEC Tournament start against Vanderbilt last Thursday due to arm stiffness but is healthy and scheduled to pitch in the regional this weekend.
"He was fine," head coach Mike Bianco said. "We didn't want to make a big deal of it. On short rest, we didn't want to push him and get him to a point where maybe he wasn't at his best this week. We wanted him to throw, but we weren't willing to push it at that point. When we got to Friday before the Arkansas game, he did his throwing and felt great. He would have started that Saturday and I would have put him on normal rest for this week. He threw a bullpen, felt great and is ready to go."
"I'm good," Trent said. "It was a little bit of fatigue but I threw a pen on Saturday and everything is great. There are no worries there. I'm ready to throw. There was no arm pain, just fatigue and after talking to coach (Bianco), obviously regional play is most important."
In Trent's place, Jeremy Massie got the spot start against Vanderbilt, his eighth start of the season, and worked 4.1 innings with one run on four hits with three walks and three strikeouts, as the Rebels went on to defeat the Commodores by a score of 7-2. Massie holds a 2.34 ERA over 53.1 innings this season, having split time as a starter and in the bullpen.
"It gives you flexibility, but you don't know how you're going to use him," Bianco said. "He's certainly one of our main guys out of the bullpen. Can he start? Sure. A lot of it will depend on the weekend and where you go to how you use him."
Before the SEC Tournament, Bianco talked about the team's pitching depth, particularly in the bullpen. That depth played itself out over the three games in Hoover, Alabama with five different relievers seeing action, including two appearances by Josh Laxer. Including Massie, seven different relievers have appeared in at least 15 games, and they hold a combined 2.32 ERA over 209.1 innings.
"The good thing about the SEC Tournament was we got just about everybody in, just short of a couple of guys that we were saving for the next day in (Evan) Anderson and (Matt) Denny, but all the other relievers got in, and everyone pitched well," Bianco said. "Over the past few weeks with no midweek games, it's been tough with guys like (Josh) Laxer and (Wyatt) Short, who have seemed to not pitch as much. Laxer got in twice, and although it was a little tougher for Short in his outing, at least he got out there.
"You want to win the tournament, but one of the biggest things is how it prepares you for this tournament. I was happy with how we used the pitching and how much everyone got in."
For the sixth time in program history, Ole Miss was selected to host an NCAA Baseball Regional. The Rebels (41-18) open regional play Friday with No. 4 seed Jacksonville State (36-25), with No. 2 seed Washington (39-15-1) and No. 3 seed Georgia Tech (36-25) in the other matchup.
The Gamecocks have a top-100 RPI with a 1-2 record against SEC teams this season (win over Mississippi State, two losses to Alabama). The Huskies finished second in the Pac-12 conference and narrowly missed a regional hosting spot, while the Yellow Jackets finished ninth in the ACC and won the tournament championship this past week.
The Oxford Regional is paired with the Lafayette Regional, hosted by No. 6 national seed Louisiana-Lafayette (53-7), as well as No. 2 seed Mississippi State (37-22), No. 3 seed San Diego State (42-19) and No. 4 seed Jackson State (31-23).
Head coach Mike Bianco
Sophomore left-hander Christian Trent
Junior outfielder Auston Bousfield
Amid regional host and national seed discussion, 10th-ranked and second-seeded Ole Miss opens Southeastern Conference Tournament play Wednesday against seventh-seeded Arkansas. The Rebels are squarely on the national seed bubble after finishing the regular season 40-16 overall and 19-11 in SEC play.
Ole Miss will start junior right-hander Chris Ellis Wednesday against Arkansas, followed by sophomore left-hander Christian Trent on Thursday against third-seeded LSU or sixth-seeded Vanderbilt.
Ellis enters Wednesday with a 9-0 record and 2.12 earned run average with 52 strikeouts and 28 walks in 89.0 innings. He has also posted six consecutive quality starts, including a win over Arkansas on May 2.
"It definitely wouldn't hurt to win a couple of games," senior catcher Will Allen said. "Obviously, we're not going to go down there and not try to win. As long as we're playing baseball, we're going to do the best we can. If we play well and do what we can and make a run in the tournament that would definitely help. It's up in the air, and we'll see."
With a series win at Texas A&M, Ole Miss moved up two spots to No. 13 in this week's official RPI rankings. Fellow SEC national seed contenders Vanderbilt, which Ole Miss might face in an SEC Tournament matchup Thursday, and South Carolina are ranked Nos. 6 and 8, respectively.
"You can't control what they do or how they're playing, but as long as keep playing well, we'll make a run at a national seed," senior third baseman Austin Anderson said. "All we can do is play well and win. If you start looking at that, you get distracted from what we're trying to do. Although it would be great to be a national seed and host a Super Regional, as long we keep winning, it doesn't matter where we play, we'll make it to Omaha."
For Allen and Anderson, they have achieved two team goals for the first time in their four-year careers: win 40 games and claim an SEC Western Division Championship. Other goals, however, remain ahead of them, as they want to finish strong and leave their legacy, individually and as a team.
"It's something we have been focused on the whole year," said Allen of the national seed talk. "One of our goals is to host a Regional and host a Super Regional. You have to take it game-by-game and really focus on the task at hand. Right now, we have the SEC Tournament. It would be really cool win an SEC Championship. None of us here now have done that, so we would love to do that."
Rebels Rolling Entering Hoover
Ole Miss left Tuscaloosa with a 4-5 record in SEC play, having just been swept at Alabama and having lost two of three at South Carolina two weekends previously.
From there, the Rebels have gone 15-6 in SEC play, including four straight series wins to end the regular season. The 21-game stretch also included weekend sweeps of Auburn and Kentucky and just one series loss, at home against LSU.
"Last year, we had a pretty good year, but we seemed to be dying out at the end and lost two of three at LSU," Anderson said. "At Hoover, we won our first game and then lost the next two. It seems like the team is playing well and we have a lot of confidence going into the postseason."
The Rebels have also shown an ability to bounce back this season. Ole Miss is 10-5 after losses, including a 7-1 mark since the 4-5 start in SEC play. They look to continue the trend coming off a 9-6 loss at Texas A&M in the regular season finale.
"Throughout the year, we have lost some close games," Allen said. "It seems like the next game we bounce back. I don't know the record off the top of my head, but it seems like after the games we have lost and the next game we play, we get right back on track. That's huge. To not really go through too many peaks and valleys but just consistently play, we have been able to do that this year."
Allen Wins Regular-Season Batting Title
Will Allen won the SEC regular-season batting title, with a .359 average, edging Kentucky's A.J. Reed by percentage points. He surged to the league lead, going 6-for-12 for the weekend series at Texas A&M. He also ended the regular season ranked second in RBI (55), second in hits (80) and seventh in home runs.
Allen has started all 56 games, including 50 at catcher, after serving primarily as the DH as a junior. He credits two years of maturity and strength and conditioning to coach Ben Fleming, for his ability to maintain his weight and remain consistent throughout the season.
"We lift two times a week and try to maintain my weight," Allen said. "A couple of years ago, I lost quite a bit of weight. I am making sure I stay between 225-230 pounds. I do a lot of stretching on my own before practice. I'm more mature with taking care of myself and making it a priority."
Robinson, Woodman Lift Rebels Late
Freshmen Errol Robinson and J.B. Woodman have been on a tear since the start of the Kentucky series. Robinson has raised his average from .285 to .310, hitting at a .375 clip, while Woodman has raised his average from .280 to .336, hitting at a .435 clip.
Woodman earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors for his role in helping Ole Miss clinch the SEC West. He drove in the game-tying run in Thursday night's win at Texas A&M and then drove in the game-tying run and scored the game-winning run in Friday's win at Texas A&M.
"The freshmen have had a big impact," Anderson said. "Errol, JB and Colby (Bortles), and Wyatt Short out of the bullpen, have had great years. Even as an older guy, when you see a freshman player with that confidence, it makes it a lot easier for us to feed off of that. Our whole team feeds off one another."
Ole Miss Athletics Week in Review
May 12-18, 2014
- Ole Miss claimed the Southeastern Conference Western Division title and the overall No. 2 seed at the SEC Tournament with a series win at Texas A&M this past weekend.
- The Rebels posted a 40-16 record in the regular season with a 19-11 mark in SEC play. It's the fifth 40-win series in the Bianco era and sixth in program history.
- Will Allen and Austin Anderson were named semifinalists for the Dick Howser Trophy by the NCBWS, presented annually to the organization's Player of the Year.
- Allen was also named one of 15 semifinalists for the Johnny Bench Award honoring the top collegiate catcher in the nation.
- Ole Miss will open SEC Tournament play Wednesday in game two of the day against the winner of the previous day's game between Arkansas and Texas A&M.
Track & Field
- The No. 18 nationally ranked Ole Miss men achieved their best finish in 30 years with a fifth-place showing at the SEC Outdoor Championships.
- Senior Ricky Robertson and junior Sam Kendricks stole the show with sensational SEC titles within a couple of minutes of each other Sunday in the high jump (7-3.25) and pole vault (18-6), respectively.
- Robertson earned the SEC Commissioner's Trophy for scoring the most points at the meet (23), as he placed first in the high jump, second in the triple jump and fourth in the long jump. It was the second time in his career to win the award (2012 indoors), and he's the second straight Rebel to win the outdoor award (Isiah Young last year).
- Kendricks set a Kentucky facility record with his winning pole vault of 18-6. He captured his first SEC outdoor title and second league crown overall.
- Freshmen Robert Domanic, Sean Tobin and Trevor Gilley all scored team points for Ole Miss, led by Domanic's runner-up finish in the 1,500 meters (3:49.02) and Tobin's third-place showing in the 5,000 meters (14:16.74).
- The Rebels scored 78 points, including a whopping 67 on Sunday's final day of competition. It was their second-highest point total at an SEC outdoor meet in program history.
- The NCAA East Preliminary is up next. The top 48 athletes in each individual event and top 24 relays from the East region will compete May 29-31 in Jacksonville, Florida, for the right to advance to the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon, June 11-14.
- Nik Scholtz begins his quest for a national championship as the NCAA Singles Championship begins Wednesday. Scholtz is seeded 9-16 in singles for the third year in a row. In 2012, he reached the quarterfinals.
- Head Coach Billy Chadwick will be inducted into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Hall of Fame on Wednesday night in Athens, Georgia. He becomes the second representative from Ole Miss to be inducted, joining 1995 NCAA doubles champion Mahesh Bhupathi, who entered the hall of fame in 2010.
- Senior Johan Backstrom was named to the Capital One Academic All-District At-Large Team for the second year in a row. The Uppsala, Sweden, native posted a 4.0 grade point average this spring and boasts a 3.92 cumulative GPA.
- Associate head coach Toby Hansson, who will take over as head coach after Chadwick's retirement, completed his first recruiting class last week, signing the top recruit from Croatia (Zvonimir Babic) and the top recruit from Egypt (Mazen Osama). They join Sweden's top recruit, Gustav Hansson, who signed in the fall.
- Junior standout golfer Blake Morris competed in the NCAA Auburn Regional in Auburn, Alabama, over the weekend.
- Morris carded a three-round total of 235 and tied for 64th-place overall.
- This concludes the 2013-14 men's golf season.
Weeks after the Southeastern Conference announced each team would continue to play eight conference football games per season, the league announced a 12-year rotation of non-division opponents for SEC football schedules through 2025.
Ole Miss will continue to play six games against SEC Western Division opponents, as well as permanent SEC Eastern Division opponent Vanderbilt on a home and away basis beginning in 2014.
Ole Miss will play Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State at home this season, and Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M away, and that will alternate home and away through 2025.
Ole Miss will play each of the other six SEC East schools once at home and once away during the 12-year rotation, starting with a home game against Tennessee in 2014, followed by an away game at Florida in 2015.
2014 vs. Tennessee
2015 at Florida
2016 vs. Georgia
2017 at Kentucky
2018 vs. South Carolina
2019 at Missouri
2020 vs. Florida
2021 at Tennessee
2022 vs. Kentucky
2023 at Georgia
2024 vs. Missouri
2025 at South Carolina
(Permanent opponents in 2014: Home - Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State; Away - Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt. Sites will alternate home and away through 2025.)
Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork and Ole Miss Athletics Foundation executive director Keith Carter announced Monday that the Forward Together Campaign has reached $110 million in cash and pledges. The total campaign goal is $150 million. Below are three new videos of interest. Fans can also live video feed of the ongoing construction, as well as a photo gallery displaying the renovations and expansion of the Manning Center.
Forward Together: Trailer from Ole Miss Rebels on Vimeo.
Forward Together: Arena Fly-Through from Ole Miss Rebels on Vimeo.
Forward Together: We Are Ole Miss from Ole Miss Rebels on Vimeo.
For more information about the Forward Together Campaign, and to receive information about how you can contribute, go to ForwardTogetherRebels.com or call the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation at 662-915-7159.
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