Diamond Rebs say now is the time

Fuller Smith is batting .286 for the season, but in SEC play he's batting .370. The Rebels have needed some hitters to step up. The junior first-year player is one who has lately.

"It's just a confidence factor," said Smith, with a home run, two doubles, and 11 RBI on the season. "I know I'm going to get a hit now. I feel like I can hit any pitcher in the league. I wish I had felt that way earlier this season. Things are really starting to click for me."

Smith said Ole Miss hitting coach Rob Reinstetle has helped him as the season has moved along.

"He spread me out in my stance and helped me do what I can and not just hit home runs," Smith said. "He's built my confidence up. It's been a long road. I'm starting to heat up, and I usually start to heat up about this time. So I'm excited about that."

Smith said he knows the Rebels' improved hitting can help the team separate itself a little more from the opposition during contests and hopefully won't make the end of games so pressure-filled for the closing pitchers.

"There are just a lot of little things that can help," he said. "An AB (at-bat) here or an AB there; making a pitch here, making a pitch there. We've found a way to lose too many one-run games. We've learned from all our mistakes, and it's time to take care of business and win games so we can make a push and win the SEC. Now is the time."

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C.J. Ketchum hopes to be rounding back into the form that's made him such a clutch hitter the past couple of seasons. This year he's batting .245 with three doubles, a home run, and 11 RBI. But in SEC play his average is only .171 with a couple of RBI.

He had two hits and an RBI against State Tuesday night. He's searching for any movement toward progress as a reason to feel good about things at the plate again.

"I've been struggling for so long, and I can't remember when I've had a multiple-hit game before that," Ketchum said. "That was my first hit in a couple of weeks, so it was nice to contribute finally. That helped me out confidence-wise, and hopefully that will carry over to this weekend."

Ketchum says there is some difference in playing first base and simply DH'ing. Now that Andrew Clark is gone, he should be at first base more. He started at first base in the USM game on April 11 in Hattiesburg, on Friday night at LSU, and against State Tuesday.

"You're more into the game when you play defense," he said. "That can help to stay in the rhythm of the game and into the flow of the game. I think it can help out some."

The senior says warmer weather has also helped him stay loose between at-bats, especially when he is the designated hitter.

"The first few weekends when it was so chilly, it was harder to get loose and stay loose when you're sitting for a while," he said. "When it gets warmer like it is now, it's a lot better."

Ketchum, a part of two Super Regional teams at Ole Miss during his first two seasons, says now is the time for the Rebels to heat up as well.

"It's crunch time and there's a sense of urgency," he said. "We've lost some games we feel we should have come out on top. With two series at home in a row, it's time to win. Our goal is to host a Regional and a Super Regional again and we're far from that right now. We've got to win some ballgames, and this weekend is big for us."

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Zack Cozart is another Rebel who is playing better these days. He's batting .342 for the season, but in SEC play he's been on fire with a .459 average. That can only mean good things for the team, a Rebel team that has surprised Cozart a bit by not winning as much as he thought it would to this point.

"It's been weird because I think we're a better team this year," he said. "Once we start clicking on all cylinders, we're going to be a very tough team to beat. This weekend is the time for us to start clicking and hopefully we'll do just that."

Cozart compares himself a bit to what Ketchum has gone through this season.

"It was good to see him get those two hits (against State)," Cozart said. "I don't know if he's had that confidence in himself, but I can see it more since then. It's big for us, because anytime you get a guy in the seven, eight, nine hole that can get a big two-out hit, then it definitely gives you a boost. It's like with me (earlier) in that you're not used to not having success. He's like a .350 career hitter. Yeah, he's been a little down, but he's a good hitter and he's shown that since he's been here."

Cozart said the team is beginning to feel better about itself as the second half of SEC play begins tonight.

"We just try to come out here and not press," he said. "We know we've got good hitters and good pitchers. We're excited about where we're heading. Last year we caught fire about this time. It's going to take playing your best ball the rest of the way, which we haven't done yet consistently. We're looking to start this weekend."

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