Experience Counts

Tanner Mathis had a good fall his freshman year in 2009. This fall as a sophomore, the Lake Charles, La., native was even better.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound outfielder led the Ole Miss Rebels in batting through the fall ball sessions with a .420 average. Mathis had 17 singles, a double, two triples, and a home run. His 12 RBI tied juco newcomer Zach Kirksey for best on the team in that department.

Mathis said he believes his success in the fall will carry over into the spring, and he believes he's better equipped to handle things this time around.

"I just hope I can keep it going all year," he said. "Just knowing the (college) game better, knowing how to control my emotions and slow it down when it gets too fast. It's confidence. Confidence is key to this game. It's just how you handle the pressure that comes along to stay on top."

Mathis was the third-leading hitter statistically on the team last spring in his first season of collegiate baseball. The left-handed hitter batted .330 in 40 games played, with 13 RBI as well as five doubles, a triple, but no home runs.

He said he's worked to become a better hitter in the past few months. He was one of 10 Rebels who accounted for the team's 13 home runs during the fall.

"I feel I can pull the ball more now versus just slapping it all the time or whatever," Mathis said. "I hit a home run in fall ball, so I think I've gotten stronger in the weight room. My vision of the strike zone has gotten better."

Mathis played a lot of center field in the fall. He and senior Jordan King spent the most time there. Mathis believes it's a two-man race, for the most part.

Mathis' .420 average led the fall

"It's still going to be a battle," he said. "Jordan King played great all fall. Coach (Mike Bianco) and I talked about it before we left (for the holidays). Nothing's going to be given to anybody. We have to go out and earn it, just like everybody else. King played very well, especially for his first time out there (in the outfield). He can easily be the center fielder, just as easy as I can be."

Although preseason practice will go a long way toward determining the outfield, either Mathis or King would likely be in center with the other in left. Matt Smith is the probable right fielder.

Things could change. There are several talented outfielders on the roster. Mathis, a veteran for years in the outfield, said all of them appear to have what it takes to succeed.

"Speed's a really big key," he said. "But it's also reads off the bat. That's where experience can come in handy. I've been out there for the last seven or eight years. I know this sounds crazy, but I can sometimes just tell what side of the field they're going to hit it to, just by their swing and reading the ball off the bat. You can tell when a guy pulls up and he's going to hit it the other way."

Mathis said he was impressed with the Rebels as he went through fall drills with his teammates, especially so from the guys on the mound.

"Our pitching staff is unbelievable," said Mathis, which may sound a little bizarre coming from a guy who was way out in front in the batting average department – Alex Yarbrough was second in the fall with a .333 average. "We had (Matt) Crouse who was under 1.00 (ERA), and (David) Goforth's ERA was zero until like the last two intrasquads. I think the (new NCAA-mandated) bats have a little bit to do with it. But we swung pretty well all fall. (The pitchers) just found ways to get out of innings without giving up runs. We've got five, six, seven guys all in the running for starting jobs."

With speed equipped for the outfield, the Barbe High School product could perhaps find himself in the leadoff role for the Rebel offense.

"Coach and I talked about that, too," he said. "I would like to be. I need to continue to get stronger and faster. But as a team deal, it doesn't matter to me where I play or where I am in the lineup, just as long as we're successful and win."

Mathis said this year for him at Ole Miss should be different, because he feels he truly knows how to handle things at the college level now. He said it was a learning experience in year one, and that word "experience" is a huge factor as he heads into year two.

"Sometimes when everything starts piling up on top of you, it breaks you," he said. "You just have to learn how to control it. You just have to use your confidence to overcome it."

With the fall he just had, Tanner Mathis has plenty of that and more as preseason practice nears.

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