For the third consecutive year, Ole Miss softball (30-23 (7-17)) is headed to a Regional under coach Mike Smith. The Rebels were sent West, to the Arizona State regional. Ole Miss will play Long Beach State at 6:00 p.m. cst on ESPN Friday.
But after taking their final regular season series from No. 7 national seed Georgia, Ole Miss was an odds-on favorite to make the tournament. After all, the SEC sent all 13 teams a season ago.
Long Beach State missed the postseason a year ago, but sizable improvements in all phases have seen them sky-rocket to a 42-12 record and No. 20 overall ranking.
At the plate, Long Beach State’s slashline has improved from .237/.319/.312 with an OPS of .621, averaging just 2.65 runs per game, to .308/.452/.385 (an OPS of .837, scoring 5.69 runs per game). In the circle, their ERA lowered from 3.66 to 2.27, while their WHIP has improved from 1.5033 to 1.2243. Long Beach’s fielding percentage also improved by 14 points.
Where Long Beach State has improved, the Rebels have faltered. Ole Miss’ slash line took a step back, falling from .294/.402/.376 to .263/367/.336. Runs per game? That fell, too. The Rebels averaged 5 runs per game last season, down to 4.35 in 2018.
Kaitlin Lee was lethal in the circle, as were Kylan Becker and Brittany Finney at the plate during the stretch run, but that ends the constants in Oxford.
Elantra Cox’s batting average dropped 89 points from .429 to .343, while her on-base percentage dropped 70 points (from .468 to .398).
Kaylee Horton’s average improved, but her on-base percentage actually dropped, which can be attributed to bad luck.
Dylinn Stancil was only able to start 18 games in the 2018 season due to an injury, which hampered her production at the plate. Still, she was solid in taking over the starting second-base role towards the end of the season, allowing Kaylee Horton to move to right field.
Ole Miss went one-and-done in the SEC tournament, losing 4-1 to LSU via a grand slam. Elantra Cox was hitless in that game, though Kylan Becker’s two hits kept the pressure on, as did Kaylee Horton and Paige McKinney’s back-to-back singles. Becker was the only Rebel to cross the plate, but they had their chances – they left three runners on base, including second and third with one out.
But a few days before that, Ole Miss was able to capitalize, taking 2-of-3 from Georgia. Mike Smith said of that weekend: they were finally the team I “had expected them to be all year long.”
Last year, it was Arizona State being sent East to the Oxford Regional. This year, Ole Miss will make the return trip hoping to do what Arizona State couldn’t – upset the hosts, but first they have to get by a much-improved Long Beach State team.