The Season Continues

Zach Kirksey called last spring "embarrassing" as far as his baseball was concerned. So he did something about it.

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Last season at Ole Miss, his first from junior college at Eunice, La., he batted only .192 in 29 games, starting 16 of them. He had just three home runs along with a double, a triple, and nine RBI. He mentioned his summer playing baseball in Alaska did not go very well either.

The things he did since then have worked so far as the senior outfielder and designated hitter is currently leading the Rebels in batting at .538 with 11 RBI, tops on the squad. He has four doubles to tie Matt Snyder for best on the team, and also two home runs, which ties him with Alex Yarbrough for team best.

Not so embarrassing anymore, to say the least. And assistant coach Cliff Godwin has helped, according to Kirksey.

"About a month ago, I wasn't doing too well, Coach Godwin talked me into going to a wider approach and kind of simplifying things," Kirksey said. "He watched some video and said my head was moving a little bit and that was making me swing at bad pitches and not stay on some balls. As soon as I spread out, I started making more contact. Ever since then, it's been getting better and better. I've been able to stay shorter, more simple, and been able to get the good part of the bat on the ball."

Kirksey and his teammates host Miami (Ohio) this weekend. The Rebels, ranked 16th in Baseball America this week, are 7-1. Miami is 3-3.

Kirksey said he has more confidence now, and it's showing up at the plate.

"The biggest thing we do here is we hit so much," Kirksey said. "We hit and have really good BPs. You don't really worry about your swing. You just go up there, try to be on time, and get your best swing off. That's one of the things Coach Godwin teaches, one of the many things he teaches. It's really helped me a lot."

The left-handed hitter jokingly but honestly said since he's only hit against right-handed pitchers this season, he would have to refresh his memory on how to hit against left-handers.

"I've kind of forgot," he smiled and said. "It would be nice to see some left-handed pitching. But if I don't, I'm fine with that. Whatever it takes for us to win."

Kirksey said he just tries to go up to the plate and get the job done.

"I don't go up there and try to do anything more than I'm capable of," he said. "I just try to stay short, stay simple, and get my best swing off. It's been paying off, and it's fun."

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said a better Kirksey is good for the team.

"Excited for him. He got off to a good start last year, but not like this," Bianco said. "He just looks like a force up there. He looks really locked in. I think the difference is just his approach at the plate. He looks more comfortable and more confident. He's made some great adjustments, and he looks as good as anybody in the lineup."

Kirksey said there is no one "box" any hitter can be put in. There's the individuality aspect, and he's aware of that.

"Every hitter's different," he said. "You kind of have to find your own niche and things that work for you. I have a routine now that I do every day. It's comfortable. That's what I do whenever I get ready for a game or for BP, just stay in the routine and stay consistent."

So far, Kirksey has DH'ed when Matt Snyder has been at first base. When Snyder is in the DH role, Kirksey hasn't played. He's also gotten some game time recently in the outfield, although the competition out there is fierce this season.

"It was nice to get out there (this week). I feel like I can play defense. I'm probably not as fast as Senquez (Golson)," he smiled and said. "But I feel like I can play. But I just want to win. It's my senior season, and we have a lot of goals as a team. I think we can go a long way this year. I don't think we've showed our potential yet. I'm excited for this weekend and more weekends to come."

Kirksey leads the 2012 Rebels in batting average so far
Bruce Newman

And there's one other aspect he's tried to improve. When he hits a ball that appears to be headed over the fence, he's paying more attention now to his fellow Ole Miss students in right field and their reactions, which have become legendary.

"I did catch the festivities on that one," he said of the home run he hit Wednesday night against Jackson State, admitting he missed the students' reaction on his first home run earlier in the season. "They were happy about it, and I was, too."

Two Rebels Debut

Two pitchers who saw their first action as an Ole Miss Rebel this week were right-handers Hawtin Buchanan, a freshman, and junior transfer Tanner Bailey.

Certainly they both give Ole Miss a different look on the mound. And a different look for the opposing hitters.

Buchanan is 6-foot-8, while Bailey is 6-7.

"I felt things went pretty well," said Buchanan, who pitched an inning, facing four batters, with a walk and two strikeouts. "I was down in the bullpen getting ready, and I was a kind of nervous with it being my first outing. Coach (Carl) Lafferty said just go out there and fill up the strike zone. That was my goal going in there."

The Biloxi High School product said it was a moment he had been waiting on for some time.

"It was nerves but at the same time it was kind of like dream-come-true emotions," he said. "But I had a good time out there. I was ready for my shot, and I was happy I got it."

Buchanan said there's been a lot of work to get to the mound for a game.

"It's been a grind, but Coach (Bianco) and Coach (Lafferty) both told me to be patient and I'd get my shot," he said. "So I was mentally prepared and focused."

Buchanan said the learning process has been good for him.

"I've learned more probably about pitching here than I've ever known," he said. "The first thing Coach (Bianco) did was make sure to tighten up my breaking ball. I started seeing instant results from that. He and Coach Lafferty are really good about refining things, and they know what they're doing."

Bailey said it's been a long road back for him to pitch again. He had shoulder surgery nearly two years ago. The injury was at the end of his junior college career in May, 2010. Surgery followed in June.

"I felt like I did pretty good, just coming out and throwing strikes and working it into the zone," Bailey said. "It felt good to be out there with those guys. That felt better than anything, just being able to play with them and being healthy and being able to play with them for the first time."

He said he's healthy now and ready to help this team win games.

"I'm 100 percent, 110 percent for that matter," Bailey said. "It feels great. It's been going well. I've been full strength since the beginning of the fall, really. It feels good."

Bailey said whatever role he's put in this season is fine with him.

"Whatever Coach Bianco wants me to do and whatever the team needs is what I'll do," he said. "I'll step in to do whatever it takes to help us win ballgames."

Hosting Miami (Ohio)

The Redhawks are coming off 1-2 performance at the First Pitch Tournament last weekend. They fell to Michigan State and Furman before rallying to beat Michigan State in the final game of the weekend. Miami also picked up two wins at Furman in a weekend series to start the season.

Kevin Bower leads the Redhawks at the plate with a .625 average, a single home run and a team-best nine RBI.

Sunday starter Shawn Marquadt, a left-handed senior, is the top pitcher on the team. He has a 1-0 record with a 3.09 ERA and posted a complete-game shutout over Michigan State this past Sunday on his way to being MAC Pitcher of the Week.

Other scheduled starters are junior RHP Mac Thorseon tonight and junior RHP Brooks Fiala Saturday.

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