Ferguson Settling in at Shortstop

Sub-par has been the best way to describe Ole Miss' shortstop play this season. But Tuesday against Southern Miss, the Trustmark Park music operator provided an odd bit of foreshadowing that summoned thoughts of a shortstop past.

Moments later, Tim Ferguson did exactly the same thing.

With the bases loaded, two out and Ole Miss clinging to a 2-0 lead, the Golden Eagles called time and sent pinch hitter Drew Carson to the plate. During the pause in play, "Boom" by Nelly began to roar from the public address speakers.

The former top-40 tune used to be a welcoming melody for Rebel fans, as is served as all-American Zack Cozart's walk-out song for the past three seasons. Since Cozart's departure to the pros, the shortstop position has been a revolving door of futility.

First Evan Button, then Sean Stuyverson and recently Ferguson have all searched for the consistency to win the position.

Ferguson has started six games in a row, and his performance of a few seconds following Carson stepping in and Nelly ricocheting throughout the stadium undoubtedly displayed a flash of the possible potential in his future.

The 2007 Rawlings High School All-America selection read the ball off Carson's bat and dove into the six hole. Ferguson snagged the ball at full extension, and in one movement, rose to one knee and threw a strike to second base. Stuyverson caught the toss while stepping on the bag to beat the runner and end the inning.

Ole Miss dropped the contest 3-2 in extra innings, but the defensive superlative was a major moment for a team searching at shortstop.

"The bat has been a little down, so I was really concentrating on my defense at the time," Ferguson said. "I got a good jump off the bat and regained my balance pretty quickly. I knew he was out when I let it go.

"I'm just doing what I can with this opportunity. I wasn't expecting it because of older, good players, but I know I have a chance to make an impact."

Ferguson's increased time stems from the previously mentioned inconsistency and also a Button injury. Button tweaked his back during the Mississippi State series and has been inactive since starting the second game of that set.

Stuyverson started a day later, but it has been all Ferguson from then on. The Beaumont, Texas product has endured freshman moments in both phases, but he is improving almost daily as the experience mounts.

"You have to credit Ferguson for somewhat stabilizing us at shortstop with Button out," Mike Bianco said. "I think he has been excellent, and yes there have been hiccups, but you can see the ability. He should only get better."

The clutch play in the field Tuesday served as a great sign after the recent ineptitude of Ole Miss shortstops. The Rebels have committed 31 errors on the season, with 13 of those coming from Button, Stuyverson and Ferguson.

Ferguson has four mistakes in 38 chances and decision-making is to blame for the most part.

"I have had to learn to let the game come to me," Ferguson said. "There is energy, and you are hyped up, but you can't rush and play beyond yourself. Everything is really slowing down now. I'm not going to say I was never comfortable, but it is easier."

Ferguson is hitting .300 on the season, and despite a recent skid, has been productive at the plate with quality at-bats. He only hit around .250 over the past week, and Ferguson is concentrating on shortening his swing and staying aggressive in a controlled manner.

The goal is to avoid pop-ups and hit the ball sharply even when making outs. The slight swing change is difficult during the season, but the adjustments are beginning to become natural. The shift in approach is easier due to Ferguson being one of the better contact hitters.

He is third amongst the regulars in least strikeouts per at-bats behind Jordan Henry and Logan Power. Ferguson has put the ball in play 36 times in 40 at-bats.

"I was flailing out of control early on and pulling everything into the dirt out past the left field stands," Ferguson said. "Now, I am staying more compact and trying to hit line drives up the middle and the other way when I need to. Coach Rob (Reinstetle) has helped a lot. It is all about putting it in play hard somewhere."

With Button's status still unknown and Ferguson gaining confidence, shortstop may now be the freshman's to lose.

"We are all competitors and want to be on the field," Ferguson said. "And also, we are working to get out of this slump we are in as a team. You want to keep your job, but above that, you want to make plays that can win games. Sitting on the bench isn't what you look for, but even that doesn't compare to losing.

"Evan will fight back when he gets healthy, and he is talented. But right now is my chance. To help myself and more than that to help the team."

OM Spirit Top Stories