Older players have stepped up for Rebels
A week away from baseball, actually playing in a game, has the Ole Miss Rebels a little on edge. It’s not that the players haven’t enjoyed a little time away from the diamond after being eliminated from the SEC Baseball Tournament last Friday, they’re just used to playing by now.
And it seemed like cabin fever had set in Thursday in the last meeting with the media before today’s opener against Jacksonville State.
“We’re all ready to go and start playing. It’s been a week when we’ve last played, so we’re ready to get going,” said center fielder Auston Bousfield, who was recently named to the All-Southeastern Conference first team. “We’ve had a lot of down time with practice and things like that. We’re definitely ready to start competing again.”
Ole Miss (41-18 overall) has been a very consistent team this year – the Rebels haven’t lost more than four games in a row – in large part due to a number of veteran players like Bousfield, who has been a part of two other NCAA regional teams.
“I just think we’re more mature as a team, a lot of guys that are a year older and kind of understand the way things work around here,” Bousfield said. “We’ve been able to help out the freshmen and the younger guys, and I think that’s really helped us this year. We have been pretty good all year about bouncing back and not letting a loss or anything get to us. That’s played a factor in our success.”
Will Allen, a senior, who leads the Rebels with a .352 batting average, gave credit to the coaching staff for keeping practices meaningful, without being too taxing this week.
“During the season, we’re playing every other day, so we’re not used to coming out here and just practicing every day. I give our coaching staff credit, though, they have done a great job with us this week, showing us there is method behind everything,” Allen said. “We haven’t been out here for two or three hours practicing. There have been a few days where we’ve just hit in the cages and done just enough to stay sharp. So we have gotten some rest as well.”
When it comes to the success of the team, Allen felt like the key was letting each individual choose how they wanted to play.
“That’s something older guys coming back really focused on, the juniors and seniors. We wanted to make sure that everybody kind of had their own thing. If you’re relaxed, go out and play relaxed. If you’re one of those guys that gets pumped up and intense, then just do that,” Allen said. “We didn’t want to force anything on anybody. I think everybody kind of has their own methods to doing things. We just really wanted everybody to kind of just use their own personality out there and play with that.”
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco emphasized just how important leadership has been and seemed to feel like it was a big reason why the Rebels are playing at home this weekend.
“The leadership hasn’t been asked as much about, and not just about (Bousfield and Allen) but everybody. This is a great senior class and I talked about the mix of older guys and younger guys, especially early on in the season,” Bianco said. “I think the older guys, from (John) Gatlin to (Preston) Overbey, all the older guys, the pitchers, they’ve been great. I think (Chris) Ellis has been terrific with the younger pitchers. I think the freshmen that have been contributors, I think it’s made their roles a lot easier because they’ve been able to watch those guys and follow those older guys.”