Softball Rebels Look to Continue to Pick Up Steam in Ole Miss Classic
OXFORD, Miss. — Although the Ole Miss softball team was a bit slow getting out of the gate this season, the Rebels have bounced back and are looking to pick up more steam in the Ole Miss Classic this weekend in Oxford.
In early February, the team traveled to Clearwater, Florida to compete in the NFCA Division Leadoff Classic. The Rebels (6-10) really struggled to score runs as the team went 0-5 on the trip and only had one game where they put up over two runs.
Following that, Ole Miss traveled to Mexico to compete in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge. There, the Rebels earned two wins in five games — including an impressive 4-1 win over the Mexican National Team.
After Mexico, the Lady Rebels returned stateside, posting a 5-2 record in their seven games since. This seven-game stretch includes a solid performance at the Blazer Classic last weekend where Ole Miss placed second behind the nationally ranked Louisiana Lafayette Ragin-Cajuns, the only team they lost to over the weekend.
The highlight of the tournament came in a 14-11 win over University of Alabama-Birmingham in a 13-inning thriller on Saturday. Ole Miss also notched an impressive 8-5 victory on Friday over Oklahoma State to kick things off.
THE OLE MISS CLASSIC
Dates: February 28 – March 1, 2020
Location: Oxford, Miss
Venue: Ole Miss Softball Complex
First Ole Miss Game: Friday, Feb. 28 vs. Jackson State at 3:30 p.m.
Network: SEC Network +
Participating teams: Ole Miss, Jackson State, California Baptist, Missouri State
Ole Miss is currently 2-0 at home this season and looks to add to that total this weekend. The Classic gives Ole Miss a real opportunity to add to the Rebels’ recent winning ways before heading into conference play.
The tournament starts with a doubleheader today against Jackson State at 3:30, followed by a rematch against California Baptist at 6:30.
Hitting can be contagious in both softball and baseball, and Ole Miss has been capitalizing on these opportunities. In their last seven, the Rebels have tallied six runs or more four times and one game with five (a 5-0 shutout against UAB), which has boosted the team’s average runs per game to 4.31.
The Lady Rebels also look to continue their home run streak as they have hit one in each of the last six games.
DYK Ole Miss has hit a 💣 in 6️⃣-straight games❓
— Ole Miss Softball (@OleMissSoftball) February 26, 2020
A look at the Rebels
Look for Ole Miss to lean on veteran pitcher Molly Jacobsen, catcher Autumn Gillespie, and infielder Paige Smith this weekend. Jacobsen, named 2019 SEC Second Team All-SEC, has recorded 42 strikeouts in 10 appearances on the season. In her last performance she threw a dominant complete game against North Alabama, giving up only 2 hits while striking out seven.
— Ole Miss Softball (@OleMissSoftball) February 26, 2020
Autumn Gillespie is the Lady Rebels’ leading hitter, notching .341 average, a .610 slugging percentage and a .491 on base percentage. She has also drawn 11 walks on the year, and when on base has racked up four stolen bases. Gillespie is no stranger to the Ole Miss lineup as she has started all 16 games this year to go with her 59 starts last year and 53 starts as sophomore.
Lastly, freshman Paige Smith has had an impact as she as started all 16 games this season. She has .262 average with a .429 Slugging percentage. She currently plays both third and second base for the Lady Rebels. She arrived in Oxford with a lot of fanfare, as she was one of three Travel Players of the Year by Softball America in the under-18 category.
Scouting the Opponents in the Ole Miss Classic
Bill Baber is in his ninth season as the head coach at California Baptist, leading the Lancers from the NAIA level to NCAA Division II before moving up to Division I last season. He holds a career 305-127 record at CBU.
The Lancers are 4-10 on the season. CBU entered last weekend with a 4-5 record and some momentum, capturing a pair of big wins over the Rebels and Colorado State at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge. However, CBU fell on some tough times at the Silicon Valley Classic, dropping all five games by a combined score of 3-34.
CBU is led offensively by freshman catcher Katelyn Mangrello, the only everyday start batting over .300 at .314, adding a pair of doubles with seven RBIs and three runs scored. Senior first baseman Mackenzie Budinger has been the main power threat, taking a pair of home runs deep and leading the team with nine RBIs.
Two primary pitchers lead the way for the Lancers. Senior Kerisa Viramontes has thrown a team-high 46.1 innings in nine appearances with six starts, posting a 3.32 ERA with a 3-5 record. Junior Giana Lopez is the other workhorse, tossing 33.1 frames in her nine appearances and seven starts, earning a 6.09 ERA and a 1-3 record.
Jackson State is in its second season under head coach Kevin Montgomery, a veteran of the softball coaching world with over 15 years of experience. A bulk of Montgomery’s coaching experience has come at another Southwestern Athletic Conference member from the Magnolia State, Alcorn State.
JSU is 6-7 on the season, rebounding from four-straight losses to open the year. The Tigers competed in the Michelle Short Memorial Classic in Conway, Arkansas, winning taking two wins over Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Morehead State while falling to host Central Arkansas and Southern Miss.
The Tiger offense is sparked by seniors Kaitlyn Elzie and Ariana Cruz, both of whom are batting over .400 in 2020. Elzie paces the team with a .444 average, also driving in a team-best eight RBIs with a double and a home run among her 12 hits, scoring six runs herself. Cruz is close behind with a .429 batting average, scoring a team high 11 runs. Both are big threats on the bases, too, combining to steal successfully on 12-of-15 attempts.
Junior Kayla Owens has done a bulk of the work in the circle for JSU, making seven starts and throwing 40.0 innings. Owens owns a 4-3 record with a 2.63 ERA, striking out 36 batters to just four walks. Sophomores Leah Hopson and Destyn Jones are secondary options, with Hopson recording 13.2 innings in five appearances and Jones making three starts with 13.0 innings of work. Hopson sits at a 10.24 ERA with a 1-2 record, while Jones has garnered a 4.85 ERA with the same record.
Holly Hesse, the second-winningest coach in Missouri Valley Conference history, is in her 32nd season leading the softball program at Missouri State. Hesse has racked up over 800 wins and has led the Bears to a pair of MVC regular season championships and five NCAA Tournament bids.
Missouri State is 3-6 on the season, having not played since taking part in the North Texas Invitational Feb. 14-15. The Bears lost four of five games to open the season at the NFCA DI Leadoff Classic, capping the weekend with an upset win over Baylor. The following week, MSU split its four games at the North Texas Invitational.
Missouri State is led in hitting by freshman Tess Weakly, who enters the weekend with a .350 average with a pair of home runs, also pacing the bears with five RBIs and five runs scored. Weakly has also drawn a team-best seven walks, posting a .519 on-base percentage. Redshirt-freshman Olivia Krehbiel has also provided some pop, picking up a pair of doubles.
Junior Steffany Dickerson is the ace of the staff for Missouri State, making six appearances and four starts with a 1.04 ERA in 27.0 innings of work. Dickerson owns a 2-2 record, posting 24 strikeouts to eight walks. Senior Erin Griesbauer ranks second with 14.1 innings, garnering a 7.33 ERA with a 1-2 record. Junior Madison Hunsaker has tossed 14.0 frames, dropping both of her decisions with a 3.50 ERA.
• Ole Miss is hosting the fifth annual Ole Miss Classic at the Ole Miss Softball Complex. The Rebels have lost just one time at the Ole Miss Classic, posting a 16-1 record while outscoring its opponents 98-29.
• All of Ole Miss’ games during the weekend will be streamed on SEC Network +, accessible through the ESPN app and WatchESPN. All 10 games during the Ole Miss Classic will feature live stats, with links available at OleMissSports.com.
• Ole Miss will look to remain undefeated at home in 2020. The Rebels have won both of their games at the Ole Miss Softball Complex this season and are riding a 20-game non-conference home winning streak during the regular season.
• The Rebels have homered in six-straight games, the longest streak of games with a deep fly since 2012, when Ole Miss strung together seven games with a home run.
• Abbey Latham and Autumn Gillespie are tied for the team lead with three home runs apiece. Latham and Gillespie are also tied with freshman Paige Smith, pacing the team with nine runs driven in.
• After batting just 20 times in 2019, junior Sydney Gutierrez has taken 19 at-bats this season, ranking second on the team with a .315 average.
• Autumn Gillespie has scored 11 runs in the past seven games, while Jessica Puk has crossed the plate in each of Ole Miss’ last four contests.
TJ Oxley is a current MBA student at Ole Miss after having earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Toledo. He currently covers college hoops and the NBA Draft for the Basketball Society as well as all things Ole Miss for The Rebel Walk.