On his way to the SEC

Sam Smith didn't take long to make up his mind about where he wanted to attend college and pitch. The tall, talented right-hander took one look at Ole Miss and that was all it took.

"That was my first visit. I'd never been to Oxford," he said of his trip to the Ole Miss-Georgia series weekend before last. "The city is beautiful, so clean. The Ole Miss campus is beautiful, too."

He's been to a few college campuses and seen their baseball programs. Ole Miss, as far as he's concerned, is at the top.

"They are the best facilities I've ever seen in my life," he said. "Everything's state of the art."

His head coach at Barbe High in Lake Charles, La., had high praise for his senior starter. He says it starts with who he is as a person.

"He's a really smart kid who made a 30 on his ACT," said Glenn Cecchini, father of another Ole Miss commitment, Gavin Cecchini, a shortstop who is a junior at Barbe High. "He's a leader. He's impressive. He's a very mature kid who does what he's supposed to do.

"He's just a starting pitcher. He's not a two-way guy," Cecchini said. "You never have to remind him or tell him to do what he's supposed to do as far as his workouts or preparation. Like today (Sunday). I was at the field and he was over there on his own. He and our starting catcher were throwing a bullpen. He wanted some extra work. That's the kind of kid he is."

Hard work alone won't do it, though. You have to be a strong pitcher as well, and Smith is that, according to Cecchini.

"His fast ball is 88-91 and he's touched 92 this year," Cecchini said. "He can pitch 88-91 the whole game, from the first inning to the last inning. He's a big kid, a very physical kid. He also throws a slider and a changeup. And he has great control."

"My fast ball's about 88-91 right now," Smith confirms. I have a four-seam (fastball), a two-seam (fastball), a changeup at 74-75, and a slider 75-78."

He's 5-1 this season with one save and a 1.43 ERA in 34.33 innings pitched. He's got 41 strikeouts and has walked only eight this season.

As a junior, Smith was 9-3 with one save in 79 innings. He struck out 63 and had a 2.57 ERA. As a sophomore, he was 6-0 with 66.67 innings, had 41 strikeouts and a 2.35 ERA. As a freshman, his record was 1-0 with the varsity, pitched 9.67 innings, had 10 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.72.

"So his career record is 21-4 to this point," Cecchini said of the 18-year-old Smith. "We play in a very difficult, very competitive league."

Cecchini said Ole Miss stood alone at the top of Smith's list of choices.

"He had many offers but he wanted to pitch in the SEC," Cecchini said. "He waited to be true to himself and follow his dream. He said ‘my dream is the SEC' and now he gets that opportunity."

TCU offered and Smith considered that one heavily. Louisiana-Lafayette, Southeastern Louisiana, McNeese State, and Florida Gulf Coast were also hot on his trail.

"I was debating between UL and Ole Miss," Smith said of the last several days before committing to the Rebels. "UL's a little closer, and they've got a good program there. But once I visited Ole Miss and playing in the SEC, the top conference in the country, it was a no-brainer."

Cecchini said Smith made his visit to Ole Miss the same weekend as Gavin did, and he was impressed.

"He fell in love with Ole Miss. We took separate cars but were together the whole time. This wasn't a package deal. They were going to do what was best for them."

The area of the country they're from has become fertile baseball recruiting territory for Ole Miss. Tanner Mathis played at Barbe High as had Justin Brashear before him. Gavin Cecchini and now Sam Smith are locked in as future Rebels, with Smith arriving this fall.

Smith also plays summer baseball for the Southeast Texas Sun Devils. Cecchini and Stryker Trahan, the junior catcher from Acadiana High in Scott, La., who committed last week, as well as commitment Cameron Dishon, are also on the Sun Devils.

"It's a great mesh," said Coach Cecchini. "Coach (Mike) Bianco is very well respected here. This has become a good area for Ole Miss, and his players are fiercely loyal to him. That word has gotten around down here, and there's a lot to be said about that."

And it's yet another reason why Sam Smith said Ole Miss is where he wants to be.

"I real excited to be going to Ole Miss," Smith said. "It's the best place for me."

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