McKean ready to pitch; Clark ready to start

Rory McKean and Andrew Clark are two of the many players who will help the Ole Miss baseball program in 2007.

Rory McKean watched last season as the Ole Miss Rebels won the Southeastern Conference Tournament in his home state of Alabama. Then he watched as the Rebels won the Oxford Regional and hosted a second-straight Super Regional.

This year, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound redshirt freshman from Montgomery, Ala., hopes to help with such noble causes. The right-handed pitcher believes he's ready to challenge for some mound time.

"I'm a lot more confident right now," McKean said. "It sometimes takes a while to get comfortable at this level. I feel really good about things this year."

McKean could have played college football instead of baseball. He was an outstanding quarterback in high school at Trinity and was recruited in that sport. Vanderbilt wanted him to be its signal-caller as did several other schools, including some in the Ivy League.

As the starting quarterback on the football team, McKean posted a 27-1 record. During one season he quarterbacked Trinity to a perfect 15-0 record and the AHSA 4A state championship.

But there was something about college baseball that just seemed right for McKean. His decision basically came down to Auburn and Ole Miss.

Auburn would have made a lot of sense. His whole family is either Auburn alums or fans, it seems.

But he says there was also something about the Ole Miss staff, including former assistant coach Dan McDonnell, that helped make up his mind that this was the place to be. His family has been very supportive of his decision to come to Ole Miss.

"They're up here a lot and they like it, too," he said of his family, especially his parents, Rory and Sheri, who are at most games and even attend many weekend intrasquad contests.

Many of those trips came last year during his redshirt season when they basically knew he would not even enter a game.

That's all set to change this season. McKean is one of several talented pitchers on the Rebel staff, a group which could be one of the best in the country.

This past fall he had one of the best ERAs on the team at 1.42 in 12.2 innings pitched with six strikeouts and three walks.

"I've gotten stronger since I've been here, and my pitching's improved," he said. "Working out like we do and also with the instruction we have, you're going to get better."

McKean should see action this weekend as the Rebels intrasquad twice more.

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Only a week into preseason practice, it still appears Andrew Clark is the front-runner for the day to day first baseman's job.

The 6-2, 210, true freshman from New Palestine, Ind., came to Ole Miss in the fall with a tender shoulder after surgery on Dec. 7, 2005. Since then it's gotten better and his throwing motion, more like a pushing motion this past fall, is close to 100 percent.

"My arm's good," Clark said at practice Friday. "My range of motion has been limited, but I worked on it over the (holiday) break. It's a lot better now and I'd say close to 100 percent.

"I can turn it loose and throw it to third base if I need to," he continued. "I'm still rehabbing three times a week here just to continue to get better. It should be fine by the time the season starts."

That's two weeks from Saturday when the New Orleans Privateers come to Oxford for two games on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 10 and 11.

Clark says he's also got to pick up his game in other areas.

"Especially hitting," he said. "I've got to get the bat going. There's been an adjustment. I've never faced pitching this good every day, and I believe I will get better as I continue to face it. I need to get better defensively as well. Just fine tune all areas of my game."

A tremendous talent, Clark was a four-year letterwinner at New Palestine High School. He hit .475 for his career with 26 home runs, 137 RBI, 33 doubles, eight triples, and 135 runs scored. As a pitcher, he posted a 28-0 record on the mound with four saves and an 0.84 ERA. He struck out 300 and walked 89 in 194.0 innings pitched.

Clark says he's having a ball so far at Ole Miss.

"It's a lot of fun out here," he said of being a part of the Ole Miss baseball program. "The main thing is to have fun and win. That's what it's all about."

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