Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

Kaitlin Lee Catalyzing Rebels Postseason Tear

Kaitlin Lee didn't know she would throw 440 pitches in last week's SEC Tournament.

She didn't know that she'd pitch and win all four games that helped fuel a remarkable postseason run to the program's first ever conference tournament title in an unprecedented run that rewarded Ole Miss with the 12th national seed and a regional in Oxford.

Lee just competes until someone takes the ball out of her hands.

"My mindset is continuously growing, along with my ability to throw as many games as I do," Lee said. "I think it takes a strong mindset to do that, and my coaches have helped me have that."

Lee said after the Alabama game on Saturday she just became numb to it all. She was riding adrenaline and momentum while leading her team on unthinkable upward ascension that no one saw coming.

"After that third game against Alabama, it was like 'let's keep this going, let's keep flowing with it,'" Lee said.

Lee has always been ready when the pressure is amplified, and is used to being a go-to arm. The Rebels had Morgan Bruce and Brittany Finney ready in the bullpen, but in a sport where pitch count isn't as large of a factor towards fatigue due to the lack of stress put on the elbow and the arm, head coach Mike Smith stuck with the hot hand.

"I know they are probably a little disappointed they didn't get to throw," Smith said. "They know that we go with the hot hand whether it is at the plate, defensively or in the circle. We are going with the hot hand at the time, and who is giving us the best opportunity to win games. I am sure they are not going to be disappointed when they get their rings. They are going to get their opportunity." 

Lee is 20-10 this season with a 1.78 ERA. She earned SEC Tournament MVP honors. She's a Gulfport native that arrived at Ole Miss by way of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. She was a Southeastern Louisiana commit that flipped to the Rebels when an offer to pitch in the SEC finally presented itself. She wasn't heavily recruited, but her impact on this team during this historic season is hard to quantify.

Ole Miss sat at 0-6 in the SEC after the first two weekends, and needed a leader to step up and become more vocal. In stepped Lee.

"I think her passion wears off on everyone behind her," Paige McKinney said. "Her excitement just feeds everyone else. I love it."

Lee has tossed 23 complete games. She stared down blue bloods of the sport like top-ranked Florida, Alabama and LSU and never wavered.

"The kid is a trooper. I have never coached another player like her, and I am not sure if I ever will coach another one like her again," Smith said. "God has blessed her in so many ways, and I am just glad she is on our team wearing red and blue."

Ole Miss will step onto the field on Friday night at 8:30 p.m. and etch its place in history as the first team to ever host and NCAA Tournament game. It is a run that most never envisioned, not even Smith.

"I pinch myself standing here talking to you guys," Smith said. "We're talking about logos and seating. It is kind of surreal for us right now. Our girls did exactly what we said we needed to do if we wanted to sleep in our own bed."

The team is currently taking it all in and riding high. It has been an unforgettable week in a historic season that they'd like to extend for a couple of more weeks.

"The country fell in love with Ole Miss. They fell in love with Ole Miss Softball," Smith said. "They fell in love with Kaitlin Lee, and what we are about. We are as transparent as possible. What you see is what you get on television. We don't do anything different because there are 13 cameras, because there are microphone. That is the way we are, and what you see is what you get. If it ain't broke, then we are going to continue to do what we are doing."

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