No Mort at Short

Ole Miss was looking for the next Zack Cozart at shortstop after the all-star left. Now that Kevin Mort is gone, the Rebels are looking for another defensive shortstop as effective as the Californian.

Two players this spring are almost neck and neck. Junior Blake Newalu and freshman Austin Anderson both appear to be more than adequate candidates to fill the void left by the sure-gloved Mort. They both are excited about the possibility of being the Rebels' shortstop on opening day.

"It's been going well," said Newalu, a junior transfer from Chipola College in Marianna, Fla. "I'm glad to be out here competing for a spot."

If last Saturday's alumni game is an indication, Newalu may have a slight upper hand in the position. He started for the current Rebels against the professional Rebels.

"D-I baseball is definitely different than junior college. There's a lot of competition out here," said Newalu, a Henry County High School alum and McDonough, Ga., native. "Things are still wide open. There are a lot of great players out here working hard and trying to make a difference this year."

Newalu, who actually played at the University of San Diego his freshman year before transferring to Chipola, said he understands the positives he brings and also the things he needs to pick up.

"Definitely range and arm strength," he said of his upside. "I need to always show up and work every day. It can get to be a grind. Some days your body doesn't feel as good as others. Those are the days you have to work through it."

Newalu knows about Mort and his reputation as a shortstop. But he doesn't dwell on it.


Blake Newalu is one of two candidates vying to replace Kevin Mort at shortstop
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
"He's a great player," Newalu said. "He was a great shortstop in the SEC. You don't think about that. You just go out and play the game you've played your whole life."

Anderson, right out of Mount Dora High School in Sorrento, Fla., is a versatile infielder.

"I've played short basically my whole life," he said. "I played some second. But I also played some third with the Orlando Scorpions. I am most comfortable at short, but whatever it takes for the team, I'm willing to do."

Anderson said he is confident with the glove.

"I don't make many errors," he said. "I've played short my whole life, so I have experience there. I feel I can make any play on any ball that comes near me."

Anderson said his comfort level has risen since he's been at Ole Miss, especially at the plate.

"I was a little nervous about the pitching coming in. Obviously it's SEC baseball," he said. "I knew it was going to be tough. But I'm getting more comfortable. The competition out here makes you step up and work hard, and even when you're tired you push through it. You know the guy next to you is working as hard or harder."


In The Bullpen:


Donna Holdiness is helping the Ernie Labarge Bullpen Club regroup.

The club, at its peak, had more than 1,700 members. After Ernie died in 2008, that number began to fall, mainly because nobody could spend as much time and effort on it as Ernie did.

Enter Donna. The Kosciusko physician's wife was already a club member and simply wanted to help.

"It started years ago when Mr. Ernie was still involved," Holdiness said of her interest and involvement. "We like baseball. We're baseball parents. Our children played baseball."

Her husband, Dr. Gary Holdiness, a Louisville native, is an Ole Miss alum. Donna, a Calhoun City native, considers herself a friend and a fan of Ole Miss. And one with a huge interest in baseball.


Bianco appointed Holdiness Executive Director of the Ernie Labarge Bullpen Club late in 2010
AP File Photo
"One day after we'd bought a house up here, I said I'd love to be involved and do whatever to help," Donna said.

She helped out before Ernie became ill and passed away. Now she's more involved than ever, spending hours helping the club move back to its former glory.

"Mr. Ernie was pretty much a one-man show," Donna said. "He had his routine, and he did so beautifully. I'd come in and help him. But just a little bit. I'm just a background person, just low-key. I like it better that way."

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco appointed Donna Executive Director of the Ernie Labarge Bullpen Club late in 2010.

"She is a great fit for the position and will push the club in the right direction while handling most of the day to day operations," he said. "She has been very involved with the club, therefore, I have no doubt her appointment will benefit the club immensely."

Donna and Gary are the parents of two sons – Samuel and Matthew. Samuel, 26, will soon graduate from medical school. He and his wife, Amber, gave Donna and Gary their first grandchild, a girl named Morgan, 15 weeks ago. Donna is getting used to having a girl in the family, since she and Gary raised two sons.

Donna's involvement in things like the Bullpen Club help fill a void in her life that's been there almost seven years. Matthew was 17 when he was killed in an auto accident right before his senior year of high school in the summer of 2004, returning home from the Neshoba County Fair.

"Both of them played baseball," she said of her sons. "But Matthew was truly my baseball boy. I had a brother who played high school baseball and junior college football. Matthew took after him.

"When Matthew was killed, I absorbed myself in kids," she continued. "I became a mother to a lot of kids and wanted to stay active in baseball because I do love it."

And she loves spreading the message of the game through the Bullpen Club.

"Don't forget the dream," she says she tells those in the baseball office at Ole Miss. "Every kid's dream is to walk out on that field and to be where these (current Ole Miss players) are.

"Coach (Bianco) doesn't like for me to say I'm a glorified secretary, but that's all I am. I'm just trying to be an extra pair of legs and hands, because Mr. Ernie did it all. I'm here to get our numbers up and to get people back involved."

And to this day she, like so many others, realizes just how important Ernie Labarge was to Ole Miss baseball and the Bullpen Club.

"How that man did what he did was amazing," she said.

The Club's email address to join is www.ernielabargebullpenclub.com.


OM Spirit Top Stories