By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Stuart Turner took one look at the Ole Miss campus and fell in love.
Ole Miss fans have returned the affection almost as quickly.
The junior college transfer has started at catcher from Game 1 and has become one of the most important players on a team ranked No. 7 in the Baseball America top 25.
The Rebels, 13-1 after a two-game sweep of Southeastern Louisiana, are at home against Lipscomb tonight as they begin their final non-conference series. First pitch is 6:30 p.m., with start times Saturday and Sunday both at 1:30.
Turner leads Ole Miss in hitting at .447, in doubles with seven and RBIs with 20. The Rebels have hit only four home runs. He has half of those, with a grand slam against TCU in his third college game.
Where Turner has been most impressive has been with his defense. Not only does he blocks balls, as most good catchers do, he’s thrown out 11 of 14 would-be base stealers.
“Turner is just a weapon behind the plate. Nothing ever gets by him, and if they ever try to steal, he takes care of that,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
While many junior college transfers require time to adapt, Turner’s quick fit makes him appear years beyond high school in Eunice, La., where he couldn’t attract interest from SEC schools.
He rejected the smaller in-state programs and played with the hometown junior college, LSU-Eunice, where former Ole Miss catcher Brett Basham happens to be an assistant coach.
“I didn’t want to go that route and get beaten up for four years,” Turner said. “I went to juco. We won a lot, and luckily it worked out with coach Basham. He got me to hook up over here. I came on my visit in October and fell in love with this place. How could you not?”
Ole Miss enters the Lipscomb series with a 1.86 ERA. Turner, a 4.0 student in general studies, has been a big part of that with his fierce protection of second base.
“I’ve seen him pick a ball in the dirt, and then throw a guy out at second. I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s unbelievable,” said Bobby Wahl, the Rebels’ Friday night starter.
Slight changes to his batting stance have helped him get off to a fast start at the plate, Turner said.
This isn’t the first season he’s turned heads. In helping LSU-Eunice to the junior college national championship last year, Turner was named Easton’s defensive player of the year.
He says Ole Miss shortstop Austin Anderson has played a big role in eliminating baserunners by picking up long and short throws off the bounce.
“My arm strength has always been there. I usually didn’t have this kind of defense with me to pick me up,” Turner said. “You don’t see this all the time, and it might not continue. It’s just kind of happening right now. You just go out day to day and try to play your best.”