Ketchum helps lead Rebs into another Regional

C.J. Ketchum hadn't caught since junior high. But last fall he learned the trade again.

A lot has changed since then. One thing hasn't, though. After 60 games this season, the senior from Joplin, Mo., has yet to catch in a Rebel contest.

The smile from C.J. concerning his catching probably suggests he might be glad he hasn't been called upon. But his willingness to be ready to help in any situation at any position is what the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder is all about.

Ketchum had made a name for himself as a productive and quality pinch hitter during his first season at Ole Miss in 2005. In 2006 he played in all 66 games, starting 65 of them, mainly at first base.

In the fall with talent and depth spread throughout the ballclub, it was obvious some players might have to take on new roles to get some playing time. There were several, including Ketchum, who needed to be in the games. So the coaches went about the task of trying to make all the pieces fit.

Things were different for several players. C.J. was one of those.

"It was a challenge to adjust to my role this year. Especially early it was tough," said Ketchum, who batted .337 last season and is batting .262 this year. "I'm just trying to take advantage of my opportunities and help the team whenever I can."

Head coach Mike Bianco says Ketchum's contributions to the program have been invaluable.

"C.J. has been able to be a great leader and is having a senior year I'm sure he didn't expect," Bianco said. "He does whatever we ask him to do. He's always upbeat. Guys like him and Justin Henry and others who are playing different positions and are in different roles than in the past says a lot about their character and what kind of team players they are."

Ketchum, who has played in 51 of the Rebs' 60 games this year and started 44, has been a part of the last two Rebel teams which hosted Super Regionals. He feels this team has the potential to do the same thing, and to also move on to the College World Series.

He says this team hasn't slipped its way into any Regional. It's played its way in.

"You can't back into hosting a Regional," said Ketchum, with three doubles, a home run, and 17 RBI on the year. "With our RPI as good as it is and our schedule as tough as it is, you don't do that. We definitely played our way in. A couple of games here or there and we're a national seed."

The Rebels, 19-11 against teams in the NCAA Tournament this year, have their whole season ahead of them. The 24-year-old Ketchum, the oldest player on the roster, wants to go out a winner. He wants to play his final college game in Omaha, Neb.

"We're battle tested against the best," he said. "We've gotten the experience against all those teams, so we know we're prepared for what lies ahead. It's got to have helped us get to this point."

And now the focus shifts to the Oxford Regional. Baseball in June at Ole Miss. There's nothing quite like it.

"This is exciting," he said. "Postseason is major intensity. I think it will be a good Regional and we should draw a good crowd."

And as for playing catcher, there's still time. But Brett Basham and Alex Kliman seem to have the role wrapped up at this point.

"Maybe if I would have been able to catch a few games, that might have helped me in the draft," Ketchum said. "But that doesn't matter either way now. I just want to win."

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