As the students flocked out of Oxford after the end of the spring semester, there was still a bit of commotion on the corner of Chucky Mullins Drive and Hathorn Road at the Ole Miss Softball Complex.
Extra bleachers and other additional seating renovations have been added in preparations for the NCAA Oxford Regional this weekend. The Rebels, who are the No. 11 overall seed, will host three other programs in the opening round of the tournament.
This weekend marks the second time Ole Miss has hosted a regional, and the Rebels will have their hands full with one of the more challenging draws in the tournament with a pool that includes Louisiana-Lafayette, Southeast Missouri State and Chattanooga, three 35-plus win teams.
“I think a lot of it had to come down to regional team. You’re talking about who’s the next closest regional two-seed that could come in here unless they’re flying someone in,” head coach Mike Smith said. “but from that standpoint I think we should have had somebody maybe a little bit different, maybe not a 50-win team.
“But again I’m not sure how the regional committee selects where they go and what they do. It is what it is. To be the best, you’ve got to play the best and Lafayette is one of the best teams”
The No. 7 Ragin’ Cajuns boast a 50-4 record and went undefeated in conference play. With their current 27-game win streak, Louisiana hasn’t lost a game in almost two months. Shortstop Alissa Dalton has a .403 batting average with 41 RBIs and 47 runs scored herself. Dalton is one of nine Ragin’ Cajuns batting above .300.
Southeast Missouri State is in the middle of its best season in program history with a 45-16 record and a share of the Ohio Valley Conference title.
The Rebels’ first round matchup will be against Chattanooga, who finished second in the SoCon with a 37-15 record. The Rebels bested the Mocs 10-2 in five innings in 2018.
“We’re battle-tested. They haven’t played the type of schedule that we’ve played before,” Smith said. “We had an opportunity to play them last year so we do have a little bit of video on them.”
Smith’s team has the opportunity to shift their focus primarily to the softball diamond with the semester over. The Rebels’ four All-SEC players will look to lead Ole Miss through the gauntlet this weekend.
Senior outfielder Kylan Becker leads the Rebels with a .411 average and is the first Ole Miss player to play in four NCAA Tournaments. She’s been the key to the Rebels’ success throughout the season and has pushed her teammates to dig in down the stretch.
“I would just keep telling (my teammates) that hosting is the best feeling ever and how exciting it is,” she said. “I don’t think they understand what it means yet but I just told them to imagine the biggest crowd we’ve ever had times three. I think we’re all just excited.”
Molly Jacobsen and Britanny Finney will take most of the pitch responsibilities this weekend. Jacobsen holds a 1.97 ERA in 145.1 innings pitched and Finney has a 2.81 ERA in 129.2.
“I think we’re a great compliment to each other,” Finney said. “My game is a lot different than Molly’s. I throw different stuff than she does and I throw a little bit harder than she does. Whether I start or she does, bringing the other into the game just changes it up completely and really keeps the hitters off balance.”
Jacobsen said she thinks this team has what it takes to be successful in the postseason.
“We’re down to the wire, down to the teams that have really shown out this season. It’s going to take a lot of grit and mental toughness as well as physical toughness, especially for myself to handle it all,” she said. “To handle the pressure they say that comes with the postseason and be able to hit and pitch and field correctly. Not necessarily develop a new game because what we’ve done so far has gotten us to where we are but just really refining and fine-tuning some things.”
Should the Rebels beat Chattanooga tonight, they’ll face the winner of SEMO vs Louisiana on Saturday afternoon. A loss puts Ole Miss in the elimination bracket.
First pitch tonight is set for 6 p.m.