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Softball Returns to the Road for Weekend Series at Texas A&M

Softball Returns to the Road for Weekend Series at Texas A&M

Ole Miss Visits Davis Diamond for Battle with the Aggies

Ole Miss travels to College Station to face Texas A&M in a Friday, Saturday, Sunday series. The teams face off at 6:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 p.m. Saturday, and Noon on Sunday.

(Courtesy of Ole Miss Media Relations)

• Ole Miss is coming off of a 2-1 series victory over South Carolina and an 11-0 rune rule victory over Memphis.
• The win over the Gamecocks was the eighth straight SEC home series win for the Rebels, dating back to 2018.
• With the wins, the Rebels are now 18-2 at home in 2021, outscoring opponents 101-33.
• In non-conference play, the Rebels have won 38 consecutive regular season games played outside of the SEC, dating all the way back to 2018.
• In Wednesday’s rout of Memphis, Jessica Puk launched the third grand slam of the season for Ole Miss, tying the program record.
• The 11 runs scored against the Tigers on Wednesday were tied for the second most in a game for Ole Miss this season.
• Ole Miss is tied for fifth in the SEC standings with a 8-7 league record.
• The Rebels have defeated the Aggies just twice in their relatively short series history, having not beaten Texas A&M since 2005.
• Ole Miss will be seeking its first SEC road series of the season, currently sitting at 1-5 for the year.
• Ole Miss is receiving votes in two national polls, earning eight votes in the USA Softball Poll and four votes in the NFCA Coaches Poll.
• Ole Miss entered the top-25 in the most recent NCAA RPI report, coming in at No. 25.

Jo Evans is in her 25th season at the helm of the nationally-recognized Texas A&M softball program. During her tenure, the Aggies have advanced to the NCAA postseason 20 times, including three trips to the Women’s College World Series (WCWS) in 2007, 2008 and 2017 and seven trips to the NCAA Super Regionals.

TAMU enters the weekend with a 27-11 record overall. The Aggies are off to a 5-7 start in conference action, having dropped five of their last six. Despite the rough patch, Texas A&M has been tough to beat at home. It boasts a 24-5 record at Davis Diamond.

The Aggie offense is paced by Haley Lee. Lee paces A&M with a .443 batting average and 35 RBIs. The junior also has been able to hit for power this season, leading the team with 17 home runs. She is followed by Makinzy Herzog, who has driven in 30 runs on 42 hits for the Aggies.

Herzog also leads TAMU in the circle with an impressive 10-2 record. The junior owns a 1.85 earned run average through 79.1 innings pitched. She’s coming off a career outing, fanning 13 batters in a two-hit, six-inning shutout over Sam Houston. It was the 13th shutout of the year for the Aggie pitching staff.

When Ole Miss has utilized the long ball this season, plenty of times they’ve done so in an extremely damaging way. Jessica Puk’s third-inning grand slam against Memphis was the third of the season for the Rebels, tied with the 2019 squad for the most in a single season in the history of Ole Miss softball. The first two bases juiced big flies came off the bat of freshman Aynslie Furbush, who became the first Rebel ever to register a grand slam with her first hit and needed just three career at-bats to become the fifth player in program history with multiple grand slams in a career.

Following an exceptional week at the plate, Ole Miss’ Blaise Biringer was named the SEC Freshman of the Week for Week 9. The Arizona native recorded a .545 average during the week, driving in and scoring three runs apiece. Biringer’s biggest knock of the week came in the midweek tilt against Central Arkansas, becoming the first Rebel with an inside-the-park home run since Kylan Becker during the 2017 NCAA Oxford Regional.

Playing in her first full collegiate season, Paige Smith has added some much welcome punch to the Rebel lineup. The former Softball America Travel Ball Player of the Year leads the Rebels with 10 home runs on the season, becoming just the ninth Rebel ever to record double digit big flies in a single season. Smith’s 10 dingers are good for a tie for 13th most in the SEC, while her four homers in conference play are tied for the fourth most in the SEC.

Over the past few seasons, no two players have been as rock solid dependable as Jessica Puk and Paige Smith. The duo are the only Rebels to start all 65 games the past two seasons, with Puk serving as the ultimate Swiss Army Knife and Smith splitting time between second and third base.

In fact, Puk has taken it a step further, starting every game of the last three seasons, a total of 126 games, after making just eight starts as a true freshman in 2018. Again, the Iowa native has shown flexibility too, making starts at six different positions during her career (catcher, second base, third base, left field, right field, designated player).

Earlier this season, Anna Borgen crossed the 150 innings threshold for her career, officially qualifying for the all-time career marks in the Ole Miss record book. The Heath, Texas, native immediately vaulted all the way to the top, ranking first in program-history with a .218 batting average against and second in career ERA, tied with Rebel great Kaitlin Lee at 2.03. Borgen has also posted seven shutouts in her career, all in the last two seasons, to tie for seventh most all-time.

The Ole Miss Softball Complex has been an absolute fortress for the Rebels over the last few years. After going a perfect 8-0 at home in 2020, Ole Miss won each of its first 13 home games in 2021 to set the program record for a streak within the same season, finishing off the streak with 24 straight home victories. Ole Miss has won 51-of-58 games in Oxford dating back to the start of the 2019 season.

Outside of SEC play, the Rebels have been nothing short of dominant when playing in front of its home crowd. Ole Miss has won 38-straight non-conference regular season home games in a row, having not fallen to a non-SEC team in Oxford during the regular season since a 5-0 defeat to Boston College in 2018.

Even in the rough and tumble SEC, Ole Miss has been too tough to handle at the Ole Miss Softball Complex. The Rebels have won seven of their nine league games in Oxford, taking all three series in 2021. In fact, Ole Miss has won eight straight league series at home, dating back to 2018. Ole Miss is averaging five runs per game at home in SEC play, while holding opponents to 2.8 runs on average despite an 11-run hiccup in the series finale against South Carolina.

For the first time in the 25-year history of the rivalry, Ole Miss swept a three game series over Mississippi State, outscoring the Bulldogs 18-1 at the Ole Miss Softball Complex. It was the first sweep of an SEC of any kind for the Rebels since 2017, when Ole Miss took all three against No. 11 LSU in Oxford. The Rebel pitchers were nothing short of dominant against the formidable Bulldog lineup, holding MSU to a single run for a collective 0.37 ERA. The Ole Miss staff held Mississippi State to a meager .162 average over the weekend, compared to a .302 average at the plate for the Rebels. With the sweep, Ole Miss begins SEC play at 3-0 for the first time in program history. Ole Miss has won seven of the last eight and 13 of the last 17 matchups with Mississippi State.

When Kelsha Loftin first arrived at Ole Miss in 2019, she had been a right handed hitter her entire career. In fact, the Jones College transfer was an extremely accomplished hitter from the right side of the plate, garnering the 2018 NJCAA Division II Player of the Year Award. However, as a consummate team player, when asked to switch to the left side and become a slapper the Mississippi native relished the challenge. In Loftin’s first two seasons at Ole Miss she took just three at-bats, primarily serving as a pinch runner and doing so with a smile on her face, scoring 33 times in 57 appearances. This season, Loftin has been rewarded for her patience and team spirit with more opportunities at the dish and has taken full advantage. Entering the year without a single hit at the Division I level, the senior has made six starts and taken 20 at-bats, tallying seven base knocks for a .350 average.

Ole Miss has resorted to a “by any means necessary” policy when it comes to getting on base, leading the nation with 61 HBPs on the season, nine ahead of second best Saint Francis (Pa.) and South Carolina. The Rebels have been plunked at least once in all but seven games in 2021, tallying multiple HBPs 20 times. Mikayla Allee and Paige Smith have been particularly adept, with Allee tied for third in the nation with 16 HBPs and Smith not far behind in a tie for fifth with 15. Allee has been wearing pitches her entire Rebel career, ranking second in school history with 37 HBPs despite only playing in 119 total games.

Since joining Ole Miss ahead of the 2018 season, senior catcher Autumn Gillespie has struck fear in the eyes of opposing base stealers. Over the past three seasons Gillespie’s 29 runners caught stealing is tied with Arkansas’s Kayla Green for third most in the SEC behind Missouri’s Hatti Moore (32) and Mississippi State’s Mia Davidson (32). However, Gillespie has been more efficient with controlling the run game than the three aforementioned players, with the California native throwing out 35.8 percent of would be base stealers, compared to 34.5 percent for Green, 30.5 percent for Moore and 27.4 percent for Davidson. In fact, since Gillespie entered the league in 2018, no catcher with at least 25 runners caught stealing has gunned down a higher percentage of runners. Even when runners don’t take the risk of attempting to swipe a base, Gillespie has flashed her arm with a pair of pickoffs in 2021.

In addition to having nearly the entire 2020 roster returning, Ole Miss bolstered its lineup with a talented group of six true freshmen. Included in that crew are a pair of rookies who were ranked in FloSoftball’s Hot 100 Rankings in infielder Blaise Biringer and Aynslie Furbush, who plays both in the field and in the circle.

A middle infielder from Nogales, Arizona, Biringer was tabbed as the No. 59 incoming freshman in the nation by FloSoftball. Biringer helped lead Cienega High School to a pair of state championships, earning all-state laurels three times, including back-to-back first team nods in 2018 and 2019.

In addition to being ranked No. 85 in FloSoftball’s class of 2020 Hot 100, Furbush was also slotted as the No. 16 rookie in the nation in Softball America’s Top-25 Freshmen list. A 2018-19 Florida State Champion with Winter Springs High School, Furbush garnered Junior All-American laurels from MaxPreps and was also tabbed as the FACA 8A Player of the Year in 2019.

Among the new faces in the Ole Miss lineup is utility player Maddi Banks, a transfer from Virginia Tech. The Iowa native is expected to make an immediate impact, earning D1Softball’s SEC Preseason Newcomer of the Year laurel. In her two seasons in Blacksburg, Banks played in 75 total games among various positions. After establishing herself as a regular contributor as a freshman, Banks broke out in 2020. The junior started 22 games for VT, ranking fifth on the team with a .340 average while posting a .581 slugging percentage with three doubles, a triple and a pair of home runs.

A new era of Ole Miss softball begins in 2021, with Jamie Trachsel being named the sixth head coach in program history on April 24, 2020. Trachsel brings 18 years of coaching experience to Oxford, including 10 as head coach at successful programs in Minnesota, Iowa State and North Dakota State.

In her 10 seasons as a head coach, Trachsel has guided her teams to the postseason seven times. The Duluth, Minnesota, native has steered her teams to 11 conference regular season and tournament championships, coaching 47 all-league players along the way. Trachsel’s crowning achievement came in 2019, earning NFCA Great Lakes Coach of the Year honors after taking the Golden Gophers to the program’s first-ever Women’s College World Series.

A familiar face in Oxford, former Rebel volunteer assistant coach Katie Rietkovich Browder returns to Ole Miss after spending two years on Trachsel’s Minnesota staff. In addition to helping the Golden Gophers in their run to the WCWS, Rietkovich Browder was a key piece in Ole Miss’ 2017 SEC Tournament Championship and trip to Super Regionals. Rietkovich Browder was also crucial in the development of the Rebels’ corps of slappers, including the likes of Kylan Becker and Elantra Cox.

Former United States Junior Men’s National Team member Ryker Chason is in his first season as Ole Miss’ pitching coach. Prior to making the move to Oxford, Chason spent four seasons as a student at LSU, assisting Tiger head coach Beth Torina with pitching charts and pitch calls. During his time in Baton Rouge, Chason worked with a plethora of top-end talent, including All-Americans Carley Hoover and Allie Walljasper. While at LSU, Chason also served as the pitching coach for the nationally renowned Georgia Impact Premier Club travel ball team in Atlanta.

Rounding out the new faces on the pitching staff is former Elon standout Kara Shutt. Shutt spent the past two seasons as a graduate assistant at fellow SEC foe South Carolina. During her playing career, Shutt put together one of the finest careers in the history of Elon softball, setting the Phoenix’ all-time record for career doubles with 63, while ranking second in school history with 253 career hits. Shutt also filled up her mantel with plenty of awards, earning a trio of All-CAA and NFCA All-Region awards apiece.

Evelyn Van Pelt

Evelyn Van Pelt

Evelyn has covered sports for over two decades, beginning her journalism career as a sports writer for a newspaper in Austin, Texas. She attended Texas A&M and majored in English. Evelyn’s love for Ole Miss began when her daughter Katie attended the university on a volleyball scholarship. Evelyn created the Rebel Walk in 2013 and has served as publisher and managing editor since its inception.

About The Author

Evelyn Van Pelt

Evelyn has covered sports for over two decades, beginning her journalism career as a sports writer for a newspaper in Austin, Texas. She attended Texas A&M and majored in English. Evelyn's love for Ole Miss began when her daughter Katie attended the university on a volleyball scholarship. Evelyn created the Rebel Walk in 2013 and has served as publisher and managing editor since its inception.

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