Ole Miss lost two of its top three hitters from a year ago, but senior outfielder Tanner Mathis returns to spark the Ole Miss offense.
He is that scrappy little guy who drives opposing teams crazy. He is a reliable guy in the outfield, starting all 63 games last season for Ole Miss. He is a leader in the clubhouse.
He is senior Tanner Mathis.
Mathis, a Lake Charles, La., native, is entering the final season of his collegiate career.
However, the decision to return for his senior year wasn’t an easy one after being selected in the 27th round of the MLB Draft by the Houston Astros.
“It was a tough one,” Mathis said.
“It’s obviously every kid’s dream. You want to grow up and play pro baseball, and with Houston being two hours from the house, if I were to ever make it, it would be a great fit to be right there in Houston. But I think the degree is so important nowadays.”
Head coach Mike Bianco and the Ole Miss baseball team will now reap the benefits of having Mathis one more season.
This past season as a junior, Mathis hit .359 with 23 RBI to go along with a team-high 50 runs scored from the leadoff spot.
Not only was Mathis able to hit for average, but he also drew 39 walks and finished with a .460 on-base percentage, which ranked third in the Southeastern Conference.
Mathis said he believes that a season-opening series against an upper-echelon team in TCU is just what some of the younger guys on the team need to get settled into collegiate play.
“(TCU) is an SEC team,” Mathis said.
“They just play in the Big 12. I think starting off playing them really helps the younger guys realize that we have to buckle down and play our best baseball every weekend.”
With the season opener on Friday, Bianco will once again look to Mathis to be the catalyst at the top of the lineup, although after MLB draft day, he wasn’t too certain Mathis would be back.
“We return Tanner Mathis, one that we probably didn’t expect to come back for his senior year,” Bianco said. “At the end (of last season), he was arguably the best hitter on the team.”
Although Mathis may receive a lot of attention at the top of the lineup, he said this year’s team will be improved at the plate as a whole.
“I think the biggest thing is one through nine there is no easy out,” he said.
“Even 10, 11, and 12, from what I’ve seen in the spring is everybody grinds for their at bats. Everybody does exactly what coach Godwin wants us to do. It just boils down to us getting on base and guys in the middle knocking us in.”
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