Mind Game

After setting the freshman record for home runs in a season, sophomore Matt Smith was named one of the Rebels' captains for 2009. Read about it inside.

Sophomore Matt Smith isn't reserved when discussing the Rebels' struggles last season.

Despite a hot 9-0 start, Ole Miss was plagued with inconsistency for most of the season, ending with a 39-26 overall record and 15-15 mark in conference play.

But with a new season approaching and a few familiar faces leading the charge, Smith believes the team's mindset has changed.

"Last year, we started hot out of the gates," he said. "Then we hit that spot where we dropped and dropped hard. We could never climb back up that mountain. We'd always bite ourselves in the foot somehow, but now we have a new group of guys and the intensity in the locker room and the dugout is different than my past two years. I've never really felt that.

"There are really no secure spots out here. We're friends off the field, but when we get out there, its gametime. That's what we need. Nine guys out there who want to win. It may not be the best or most talented nine, but they want to win. They're going to do anything they can to do that."

Selected as one-of-two captains along with senior catcher Brett Basham, Smith appeared in 61 games last season, drawing 60 starts.

He also broke the freshman record for home runs in a season with 14, while posting a .537 slugging percentage.

However, there was that little problem with strikeouts.

"Patience is the general term, but I think it was more of a confidence thing," Smith said of his 80 strikeouts. "I know there was some mechanical stuff, but I was pushing too hard at times. I've said it before, and still do say it, you have to relax and enjoy the game. The biggest thing for me is having a better mental approach.

"I don't think it was really my physical capabilities or anything like that which was causing me to strike out, but I was beating myself more than I should've been. It's more of a mental thing with me."

Inside fastballs didn't help either.

"I knew for a fact, out of five pitches, three or four of them would be hard-in," said Smith. "Maybe sometimes, I was over-ready for it, instead of being at an even keel. I'd work on it in the cages and get so aggravated before games. I mean, its batting practice. They shouldn't beat me in in batting practice. But I was getting beat and some days I would get mad and let it roll on me. Instead, I should have just relaxed and had fun with it."

Now as a leader for the Rebels, Smith is working even harder to improve his game.

With a solid fall and a hot start to scrimmage work, Smith is aiming to be a much different player in 2009.

"I'm a totally different player from last year to this year," said Smith. "Coach Rob (Reinstetle) and Coach Bianco have told me they can tell I've worked hard this summer and over Christmas break. I've changed my stance up. I'm not near as wide, so I can use my hands more and get my hips involved. That was one of my problems. As wide as I was, I couldn't get my hips through it and my hips extended on the inside pitch. So even if I would blow it up, I would just flare it or something like that.

"I've definitely made a lot of changes this year."

So has the Rebel roster.

It's a different environment at Swayze these days. Strong leadership has taken over the team, led by two solid captains in Bash and Matt.

But most of all, a team is coming together, with each member pushing the other daily.

"I've never had a year like this where, out of 35 guys, everybody's pushing each other," Smith said. "This year, everybody's totally dedicated. It's like they've finally sold out to the program. They want to win. They're tired of going to Regionals or Super Regionals. They want to go to Omaha. That's what we're going to need."

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