Showing The Way

Tanner Mathis had a strange thought recently that made him realize life moves pretty fast.

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"I was thinking about that the other day," he said of being a junior veteran for Ole Miss baseball. "I've only got a year and a half left, and I'm done with college."

Or does he? There is always the June draft, and Mathis just keeps getting better. This spring could be interesting for him in that regard.

"I have (thought about it) a little bit," he said of the draft. "But I'm more focused on our team. There are still goals here. We haven't been to a Super Regional since I've been in school. I'm ready to host a Regional, a Super Regional, and get over the hump and go to Omaha."

He said the team is better and credits all the Ole Miss coaches for the improvement. But he said the addition of Cliff Godwin to the staff is having quite an impact.

"Coach Godwin's great," Mathis said. "He brings so much energy every day at practice. He's so energetic. He's so positive. He wants to win as bad as we do. All the other coaches are like that, too. He's new (to Ole Miss), and I think that's what we needed."

It showed in the team's fall ball session last semester.

"It was one of the best falls I've ever seen as far as hitting," Mathis said. "We're really going to be able to hit this year, and we put up some big numbers this fall. It seems like his philosophy has really clicked with us.

"We've cut down the strikeouts a lot. We put balls in play. Our contact percentage was up. Our on-base percentage was up. Our batting average was up. The biggest thing was probably our quality at-bats."

Mathis said personally he felt good about how the way things went.

"My fall was alright. I was happy with it," he said. "I felt I had more strength. My power numbers were a little higher. I had more doubles and more triples. I wasn't worried about having the highest average. I was more worried about my walks and my on-base percentage. As a leadoff hitter, that's more important than a good batting average. I was also more focused on stolen bases. I don't think I was thrown out all fall.

Tanner Mathis
Bruce Newman

"And I just feel much more confident in the outfield even than last year. I played a lot of left field this fall to get ready for that, if I have to play left field. This year I feel I'm good in center and a lot better in left. That was the main focus this fall, to get better in left field."

Mathis admits the outfield is loaded with talented players.

"We have four or five guys that can play center field," he said. "Me, (Auston) Bousfield, (Will) Jamison, and (Zach) Kirksey can play center field right now. We all four run well. I don't know who is going to play where. Me, Bousfield, and Jamison. Me, Kirksey, and Jamison. Me, Kirksey, and Bousfield. Chase Reeves can play out there. Senquez Golson. There are so many more options this year. Everybody had such a tremendous fall defensively in the outfield that you can put any person in any place, and they'll get the job done.

"Bousfield has got probably the best set of tools. He's fast. He can run. He can catch. He's got good instincts. His arm is tremendous. We're so loaded in the outfield, we shouldn't have a problem out there."

Mathis believes the competition, which is daily and strong, is a good thing.

"There's always somebody right behind you," he said. "Me and Jamison went neck and neck it seemed like every day. It made me a lot better and it made him a lot better."

Mathis likes the role of being a veteran. He could sense it last year in only his second season. This year he knows he has to be one of the team leaders.

"It's our job," he said of himself and the other third and fourth-year players. "The other guys look up to us because we've been here. We've been through adversity. They're looking to see how we bounce back through the adversity. We have a lot of young guys and they all look up to us. I like that."

Mathis said the Rebels haven't forgotten the disappointment of last season and failing to reach postseason. He said they are also reminded of it often.

"The biggest thing is just feeding off what happened last year," he said. "The coaches tell us 30-25 ain't good enough. And they're right. They remind us, and it's always on our minds about last year. It did not feel good. It hurt not to be in Hoover. We're a mainstay there. Ole Miss is supposed to be there."

It won't be long before the Rebels can begin that quest for another postseason run.

"It's getting closer," Mathis said. "Every morning I wake up, I get a little more antsy since it's one day closer to Feb. 17."

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