May 8, 2014
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. — Will Allen and Austin Anderson have seen and gone through a lot, good and bad, over their four years in the red and blue. They have donned and taken great pride in wearing the letter “C” above their right breast in their senior seasons.
They have shared not only the honor as co-captains, but also stories of selflessness that have helped propel Ole Miss to a top-15 ranking and regional host and national seed consideration with two weekends left in the regular season.
“You first have to look at how they’re selected, and they’re selected by their peers,” head coach Mike Bianco said. “We ask the players to vote for the captains at the end of the fall. Both of those guys were all by themselves selected. They were great choices, but you never know. As a coach, leadership is one of those subjective things.
“Now, that we have gotten to this point, and we’re in the final stretch of the season, we have had a really good year. There are a lot of reasons for that. One of the things that’s not talked about is the leadership from the older guys, like our captains, Will and Austin. They’re terrific players, guys that have done it on the field, as far as their statistics. They have also been great leaders and great mentors to some of the younger guys.”
Allen and Anderson were summer league baseball teammates with the Orlando Scorpions, which also produced Auston Bousfield and Sikes Orvis, and have been steady contributors since they stepped on campus. However, they have each faced change on the diamond and responded with career seasons.
As a sophomore, Allen started all 56 games played at catcher, and hit over .300. Enter Stuart Turner, who came in and won the Johnny Bench Award, which is presented to the nation’s top collegiate catcher, while Allen moved to designated hitter for his junior season. Back at his natural position for his senior year, Allen ranks second in the SEC in batting average (.359) and RBIs (51).
“The players see that Will is selfless in that way,” Bianco said. “He’s a guy who got beat out, handled it great and admirably, everything you would want as a coach, and then he came back and he’s having the best year of his career.”
“He’s still one of my best friends on that team, and we keep in touch,” said Allen of Turner, who is now in the Minnesota Twins organization. “Getting to watch him play, day in and day out, I learned a lot of stuff. Once he got drafted and moved on, I realized I had the opportunity I had to get back out there like I did my sophomore year.”
Anderson, who started 39 games at shortstop over his freshman and sophomore seasons, started all 58 games played at shortstop this past season, and was third on the team in batting average (.310). Enter Errol Robinson, the first true freshman to start at shortstop since Zack Cozart in 2005. With Robinson at shortstop, Anderson moved to third base, where he has responded with a career-best .339 batting average.
“Austin was basically the starting shortstop for most of his three years here,” Bianco said. “We move Errol Robinson, a true freshman, to shortstop, and we move Austin over to third base, and he’s been terrific with it. That’s helped Errol’s development. Errol wouldn’t be having as good a season as he is having if it wasn’t for Austin being willing to do that, and then there’s the mentoring that Austin has done from a guy who’s played that position.”
“As you get older and younger guys come in, you gain more confidence because you can teach them and show them the way and make them feel comfortable,” Anderson said. “Experience and confidence helps you build that leadership.”
On a team with no preseason All-Americans, the senior class, led by Allen and Anderson, has put the team first, and that’s one of the reasons Ole Miss has had success and can position itself, with a strong finish, to play postseason baseball at Swayze Field for the first time in their careers.
“Those are two stories that epitomizes how selfless those guys are,” Bianco said. “It demonstrates what kind of people they are and how much confidence they have. It’s not just being selfless, but it’s also having enough confidence in yourself and your ability that you can move or you can do different things. When they got here, they didn’t foresee that, but they have grown from that. They realize that things happen, and it’s how you handle them and react to them, and certainly those guys reacted in the right way.”
“We wanted to finish strong and leave our legacy, individually and as a team,” Allen said. “We have been on some really good teams, and our freshman year, we were on a team that didn’t make the SEC Tournament. For us, every year your goal is to win the SEC, host a Regional, host a Super Regional, go to Omaha and win the National Championship. All of that stuff is still ahead of us. We have put ourselves in a good position, and we’re looking forward to the rest of the year and see what is has in store for us.”
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller