Stepping Up

BATON ROUGE - It’s early to assess and evaluate any freshmen for Ole Miss baseball. There were several that arrived with high accolades. Some are already proving themselves. Some are struggling to find their way a bit. All are a work in progress.

Kyle Watson showed up last fall with personality and maturity to match his game. He just wants to play baseball and be good at it. So far so good.

“Hope I did alright,” said the rookie Rebel from Desoto Central in northwest Mississippi on Friday night.

He was talking to us as he walked away about his postgame interview. He’s new to college baseball. He’s new to us sticking recorders and cell phones and video cameras in his face as well.

We assured him he did fine. Certainly the 11,000 plus in Alex Box Stadium/Skip Bertman Field knew he had done fine in the game just finished.

Ole Miss had lost to LSU 6-4 in a game it had opportunities to win. Watson certainly did his part to give Ole Miss the chance to start the Southeastern Conference season with a 1-0 record.

Unfortunately some things went awry for a brief few seconds, especially defensively, that allowed the powerful and potent Tigers, ranked No. 1 in some polls, to win it. A couple of more timely hits would have also helped the Rebels.

Even in their last at-bat in the top of the ninth, the Rebels had a chance. Watson, leading off the batting order for the Rebels recently, was up first. He struck out, the only time all night all night he hadn’t reached first base. He was visibly frustrated with what he had just done. It didn’t matter that he had been 3-for-4 with a walk already. He was trying to help his team get a victory.

Up next was Holt Perdzock, so clutch last season in moments like this, who flew out to left field this time. Perdzock will be counted on again and will come through. There will be plenty of chances for him to do so.

Then J.B. Woodman, the talented sophomore center fielder, drew a walk from LSU’s sixth pitcher of the night, Jesse Stallings, who had entered the game to start the ninth.

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco inserted into the game at that moment talented slugger Joe Wainhouse, listed at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, a man built more like a senior tight end for football than a freshman baseball player right out of high school.

Clearly getting a big hit, and maybe sending one of out the ballpark, was the goal. The Rebels had to have two runs, and Wainhouse certainly has the capability.

But he struck out, much to the delight of the roaring Tiger crowd, who on occasion had verbally expressed their disdain for Ole Miss from time to time. Rivalry thing.

Freshman Will Golsan has been following Watson and batting second recently. Freshman Tate Blackman appears to be settling in some after a really rough start to the season. Freshman pitcher Will Stokes has contributed and will as the season moves on. There are others new to the program.

But it’s Watson, now batting a potent .386, who’s leading the way for the Rebel newcomers – both as a leadoff batter and with his performances on the field. An infielder by trade he’s made the adjustment to left field, for the most part, quite nicely.

“I tried my best,” Watson said after the Friday night game here.

That much was obvious, both by his production and by his demeanor.

His first at-bat was impressive. A double-digit pitch at-bat that he fouled off at least five pitches and drew a walk from Tiger starter Jared Poche’.

“I was just battling, trying to get on base anyway I can,” Watson said.

“First time in SEC play to lead off the game and have that kind of at-bat, it just shows you he’s a special player and having a real good year,” Bianco said. “It set the tone for us as far as competing and being able to do some things.”

The next three times up he got hits - a single, a two-RBI single, and another single.

Then came the strikeout to start the ninth. Frustrated, Watson walked away, verbalizing to himself that he should have gotten on base yet again.

Watson said this team, with its early offensive struggles, appears to be coming around some as far as production.

“I feel like we are,” he said. “We can come together even more. After every game, it’s a new start. Play one game and that game’s over.”

Watson said there are some nerves, but that’s normal. So are those nerves going away when play begins.

“Before every game, you still have the first-inning jitters,” he said. “But once you step between the lines, we’re all baseball players, and for the most part it all goes away.”

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