From The Diamond

Matt Tracy is one of the most versatile players for Ole Miss baseball this season. He can pitch, play the outfield, and hit the ball all over the field - and out of the park. Last weekend in the two scrimmages, he did all that.

"I felt good today," said the 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior left-handed pitcher/hitter on Sunday. "I was hitting a lot of ground balls the first couple of intrasquads. But today I stayed through it a lot better than previous days."

Tracy, drafted in June in the 43rd round by the Marlins, was 1-for-3 with a single last Friday but on Sunday was a terrific 4-for-5 with a single, two doubles, a home run, and a walk. The new bats used in college by NCAA rule seem to be suiting Tracy just fine.

"Everybody's got to use them. They're a little less powerful. You can still hit with them," he said, obviously proving that himself last Sunday. "Everyone will just have to adjust to them. The sweet spot is a lot smaller on the bat. You have to make contact like you would with a wood bat. You have to hit it just right for it to feel good. That's the biggest change."

Tracy pitched in the Friday intrasquad, throwing 2 and 2/3 innings, facing 14 batters, allowing four runs on five hits with two walks and a strikeout.

"Since I'm a pitcher and a hitter, it's kind of good," he said of the new bats, potentially both using them and facing them in the course of a game. "These bats are a little better for the pitchers. But it doesn't change anything on the mound. It's still the same game. You still have to play the same way, fill it up, mix it up, and keep people off balance."

Tracy said he's seeing some really positive things from the team through two weekends of intrasquads.

"This has been an interesting fall so far just because there are so many new kids," he said. "There are more new kids than returners. It's a real exciting (new) class, too. A lot of talent, a lot of kids that got drafted. Like we've seen the last few intrasquads, a lot of good arms, kids that have some good stuff, and kids that can really swing it too. It's going to be a fun year."

Tanner Mathis

Tanner Mathis, a sophomore, says he feels a lot better this time around than this time last year for a lot of reasons. A year in the program has helped immeasurably.

"I'm playing with all the confidence in the world now," he said. "I know I can do it. I can hit. I can catch the ball. I can throw the ball. The coaches and players tell you you can do it, and that makes you feel better. That makes everyone feel good."

The 5-11, 180, outfielder, who went 1-for-4 with a single Friday and a stellar 4-for-6 with three singles and a triple Sunday, says he already feels like a veteran of the program, even with just a year under his belt.

"It's just that experience," said Mathis, playing center field much of the time this fall. "I catch myself helping all the younger guys, you know, telling them it's going to get better or keep your head up or good job."

Like Tracy, Mathis likes what he sees from the newcomers.

"We have a lot of freshmen who can just flat-out play, guys like (Austin) Anderson and (Preston) Overbey," Mathis said. "They're going to be unbelievable. They know a lot about the game. They're real savvy. But once you get to this level, you know how to play. Now it's just knowing what to expect and how to do it. And they're learning."

Mathis said he agrees with Tracy on the new bats.

"It seems like you get a lot more ground balls out of these bats," he said. "The sweet spot is a lot smaller. Even if you feel like you get a good swing off and maybe miss it a little bit, that could end up helping me and someone like (juco transfer shortstop Blake) Newalu who is real fast and that's their game – contact."

Mathis also gets a view of how the ball comes off the bat from the outfield, and often the deepest part of it.

"(From center field) You can tell the ball doesn't fly as well unless you hit it perfect," he said. "There are so many not so well hit balls out there. It seems like you're running in more than you're running back. But when they hit that sweet spot, it still carries like the old bats. It's just a lot harder to do."

Coach Mike Bianco was pleased with the progress of his hitters from the first weekend of fall ball to the second.

"We swung it much better," he said. "It's like night and day from (the first) weekend. It's almost like the hitters needed a couple of intrasquads just to see live pitching. But they certainly picked it up a notch."

And he also felt the pitching was decent again, even with a lot of successful hitting.

"I really don't think the pitching was that bad," he said. "(On Sunday Mike) Mayers pitched good. (Bobby) Wahl pitched good. On Friday (David) Goforth was absolutely awesome. Austin Wright pitched well. (R.J.) Hively was better this weekend than last weekend. Some guys pitched well and some guys got banged around a little bit."

Bianco was particularly happy with his team's defense through the last two intrasquads.

"We've been really good in the field," he said. "We played 22 innings Friday without an error. Sunday we were (errorless) until the last five innings (of 11 innings). That's a lot of innings without errors. We've been pretty clean."

Matt Smith was back and doing well after wearing a heart monitor and having a rhythm situation checked out for several days.

"They (doctors) think it's more lung related like asthma," Bianco said. "That's where the shortness of breath and things like that are coming from rather than the heart. At least that's what I understand. They put him on a couple types of medicine, and he looks 100 times better. He looks like he has more energy. The last few weeks he looked like he was zapped of all his energy."

Bianco continues to search for a coaching replacement for assitant Rob Francis, who last week accepted the head coaching job at St. Petersburg (Fla.) College.

"Nothing new to report at this time," said Bianco of filling the coaching position.


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