Rebels’ improved offense centers on maturity, key newcomers

Ole Miss’ 7-6 loss to Southern Miss last night was disappointing, but it wasn’t about offense.

The Rebels did not produce in some key at-bats late, but six runs and 14 hits put a team in position to win.

Ole Miss goes into the Arkansas series second in the league in hitting at .307, third in doubles with 79, second in home runs with 33.

Here’s the kicker, something you haven’t seen from a lot of Ole Miss teams. The Rebels lead the SEC in stolen bases with 74.

“We have a chance to have 100 stolen bases. I don’t know if they’ve ever had that here,” hitting coach Cliff Godwin said.

What’s been most impressive about the offense is the improvement from so many veteran players. This isn’t about new pieces, though Braxton Lee, a junior college transfer, and J.B. Woodman, a true freshman, have played key roles.

Austin Anderson, the top returning hitter, hit .310 a year ago, third on the team last year behind Stuart Turner (.374) and Andrew Mistone (.317).

Auston Bousfield struggled to the finish last year and hit .253 with 10 doubles and 25 RBIs. He’s at .369 with 14 doubles, five home runs and 34 RBIs right now.

Sikes Orvis hit .237 with three doubles, three home runs and 21 RBIs. He’s at .321 with 10 doubles, 11 home runs and 37 RBIs right now.

Allen hit .231 with five doubles, four home runs and 23 RBIs. He’s at .360 with 17 doubles, seven home runs and 50 RBIs right now.

The big question is how? The are a couple of answers, Godwin says.

“We’re older. Guys have been with me three years now. That’s probably the biggest thing. They’re comfortable with me and know what I expect.”

So the hitting answer is maturity. The answer for stolen bases has to do more with the newcomers.

Lee has 22 steals – an SEC high – in 25 attempts. Woodman is 10-for-13.

“Last year Boz stole some bases, but Tanner (Mathis) really couldn’t be that base-stealing threat. We have a chance to have three or four guys with double-digit steals, and that’s impressive with the way people try to control the run game now because everybody has speed,” Godwin said.

It’s changed the way the Godwin and head coach Mike Bianco call a game. There is a risk involved such as last night when a double steal went awry and the Rebels had a runner thrown out at third base. The reward, though, has Ole Miss second in the league in runs scored with 279.

The increased production compared to 2013 is dramatic.

Last year the Rebels hit .277 as a team, sixth in the SEC. They were seventh in doubles with 91 doubles, 11th in home runs with 23.

Their 46 stolen bases in 84 attempts ranked 11th in the league.

Last year three teams – Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Texas A&M – had more successful steals than Ole Miss had attempts.

“We’re way more aggressive because we can be. It would have been stupid last year. Our percentage was not very good. This year, before last night, we were around 70 or 75 percent, with our success rate, which is where you want to be,” Godwin said.

He compares this Ole Miss offense to the 2011 UCF team that led C-USA in six major categories and the 2008 LSU team that won 23 straight games.

The improvement should not catch people off guard, Godwin said.

“This why we’re coaches. The bottom line is it’s our job to get them better.”

Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to John Davis and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

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