By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – A year ago, Logan Power had a decision to make.
He could take what the host was offering, security and familiarity, or he could take door No. 1 and begin a quest for Major League Baseball.
A junior outfielder for Ole Miss then, Power had been drafted in the 25th round by the San Diego Padres.
Door No. 1 wouldn’t offer the financial windfall that it would for a 10th-round selection, but it was enough to give Power pause.
“It was a really tough decision,” he said.
Ultimately, Power opted to return for his senior season with the Rebels, one of three underlcassmen to make that choice. Catcher Brett Basham and pitcher Scott Bittle also returned, although the impetus in Bittle’s decision was the New York Yankees’ interpretation of an MRI the club performed on his shoulder. The Yankees drafted Bittle in the second round. Basham was a 16th-round pick of the Chicago White Sox.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said all three – the players featured on the front and back covers of the media guide – have made a positive impact on the Rebels, who open NCAA tournament play Friday night at 7 against Monmouth in the Oxford Regional.
“It’s a question that hasn’t been asked that much, surprisingly. You have probably the most seniors we’ve ever had, not just seniors, seniors who are actually on the field getting a lot of at-bats and pitching a lot of innings,” Bianco said. “Certainly their leadership, just their presence has made a huge difference in a team that doesn’t have a lot of stars, if any at all. I think they’ve made all the difference in the world.”
Tale of three seasons
Even familiarity has risks, and the season hasn’t been without drama for those who chose it.
Basham was the No. 1 defensive catcher in the SEC in 2008 and might have been again this season had he not been replaced in the every-day lineup by Kyle Henson, who was more productive on offense. Basham routinely enters as a late-game defensive substitute.
Bittle unquestionably played a huge role in helping the Rebels earn a share of the SEC regular season championship with four straight Sunday wins, some of them in quite dominating fashion.
He hasn’t pitched in a month, however, his arm soreness finally diagnosed last week as a strained anterior capsule. He has been listed day-to-day since he was scratched from a regularly scheduled start at Auburn on May 3. He may pitch again, and he may not.
Bittle began the season in the bullpen, where he earned All-America honors last season. As an SEC starter he solidified the back end of a wobbly rotation and was 4-0 with a 1.29 earned run average and 49 strikeouts in 38 innings.
The Rebels are prepared to go through postseason without him.
“We swept Auburn without him. We swept Arkansas without him. I think we’re fine without him,” junior right-hander Phillip Irwin said. “We’d like to have him. He’s obviously a great arm, but we can’t sit here and pout, because Scott Bittle’s not in the rotation with us. Some other people will need to pick it up.”
Versatile offensive player
A pick-me-up is what Power, whose .314 average ranks seventh among the Rebels’ everyday players, believed he’d be for the Ole Miss offense this season.
“This season hasn’t been what I thought it could have been stat-wise, but it’s been unbelievable … so much fun just hanging out with the guys and going on the journey with them,” he said.
Power’s home run numbers are down, but he’s set a personal best with 19 doubles and tied a personal best with 51 RBIs while becoming the school’s career leader in that category. Power broke Kyle Gordon’s 22-year old record earlier this month and heads into the regional with 175 career RBIs.
“There have been so many good hitters here, guys like Seth Smith and Stephen Head, it’s an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence with them,” said Power, who, like Smith and Head, played at high school ball at Jackson’s Hillcrest Christian.
Power hit .291 in SEC games. He’s tied for the team lead in total bases (105) and second in walks drawn (42).
While he grades himself pretty hard, Bianco doesn’t believe the Rebels have been short-changed by Power’s production this season.
“When you start as a freshman and have that many at-bats every year, people know who you are. He’s been pitched more difficult because of who he is,” Bianco said. “I’m sure he would have liked to hit a higher average and a few more home runs, but he’s gotten big hits in big games. His presence has made a huge impact.”