By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Tanner Mathis has never been anything but productive for the first three seasons of his college baseball career.
Neither he nor Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco had forgotten that. Others might have wondered if the struggling senior was the best choice to deliver the game-winning hit. They did not.
“There’s a guy who’s a lifetime .330 or .340 hitter in our program. Bases loaded, one out, there’s not too many guys better in the country in not striking out than that guy. He’s the right guy. Fortunately he was at the plate at that time,” Bianco said.
That time was Sunday afternoon in the 11th inning. Three teammates were on base with one out, and the Rebels tied at 3 with Alabama.
One more productive at-bat would give Ole Miss a much-needed sweep of the Crimson Tide.
With one weekend Ole Miss went from four games under .500 in SEC play to 7-8 at the mid-way point of the league schedule.
They resume SEC play at Tennessee this weekend.
Mathis, a lefty hitter, got the productive at-bat he was looking for when he took Alabama reliever Ray Castillo the opposite way to left field.
The outfield was drawn-in trying not to allow the game-inning run. Had Alabama’s Andrew Miller made a play on Mathis’ hit it still would have scored pinch-runner Lance Wilson, who grew up in Tuscaloosa, as a sacrifice fly.
Mathis wanted the chance to win the game in the 11th, especially after Castillo took that chance away from him in the ninth. He hit Mathis with a pitch with the winning run at third base and two outs.
“When I got back up there Box (Auston Bousfield) said, ‘Go win the game.’ I told him, ‘Take a seat man, I got it.’ I did it. It just goes to show you, you can struggle like that, be hitting 2-whatever, nowhere near what I’m supposed to be hitting, and still come up with a big hit.”
Mathis is a career .342 hitter and hit .359 last year as a junior. He led the team in on-base percentage at .460 and had 28 multi-hit games. He was drafted in the 27th round by Houston but chose to return for his senior season.
It’s been a rough return. Mathis’ batting average had dipped below .220 going into Sunday’s game when he was 2-for-4.
He had not had a multi-hit game in SEC play and was hitting just .146 against the conference going 7-for-48.
getting on base
Lack of hitting hasn’t completely neutralized the Lake Charles, La., native. He leads the team in walks with 23, and his on-base percentage of .391 ranks fourth among the regulars.
Some nagging injuries have contributed to the low average, but trying to squeeze a little more from Mathis may also have been a factor.
“You want to improve, and sometimes you try to change a few things. We wanted him earlier in the year to turn on some balls. I think we got him out of what he does best, and that’s staying back, hitting the ball to left field and being that tough out,” Bianco said.
Mathis is hopeful Sunday’s big hit will help him turn things around.
“I feel good. My body is holding up. I’m not finding the holes like I have the last three years. That’s the only thing, coach (Cliff) Godwin tells me all the time, ‘They’re gonna fall, they’re gonna fall.’”