Mort At Short

Kevin Mort had heard about the Ole Miss-Mississippi State rivalry. Now he's become a part of it. The Rebels beat MSU 8-1 earlier this season in Pearl. This weekend the arch-rivals are playing three games in Oxford.

Arguably the surprise player on this year's team, Mort has been stellar at shortstop and excellent at the plate. The Rebels' shortstop play last season wasn't up to par. Mort has helped that situation tremendously.

He's played in 49 of the Rebels' 50 games to date, starting 48 of them, and has just four errors.

Friday night, in the Rebels' 6-5 loss to MSU in Oxford, the junior college transfer walked twice and got a two-RBI triple in the eighth inning, then came home himself on a Matt Smith fly ball. That cut a four-run MSU lead to just one and gave Ole Miss a shot.

But the Rebels couldn't capitalize and were sent to Saturday searching for a win to even the series.

"I follow college sports, so I knew about the Ole Miss-Mississippi State rivalry," said Mort, a Californian who enters Saturday afternoon's game fielding .980 at short. "I'm having a lot of fun, and this weekend is big."

Mort, batting .315 with five doubles and the lone triple, said he has for the most part been pleased with his first season of Division I college baseball.

"The main thing for me has just been the speed of play," he said. "The speed of Division I is just faster than junior college where I've been. It took me a few games offensively to get going. But everything has gotten better as the season has moved on."

Mort's had various family and friends come to Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field to watch him play this season. His paternal grandparents have been in Lafayette County for the whole season. They have seen almost every game and are in the stands this weekend in their usual seats down third base, watching their grandson and his team play the Bulldogs.

"It's been awesome," Mort said of having them here. "They've come to all my games since I was a little kid. They brought their motor home here from California and are staying the whole time. They're having fun and are looking forward to the rest of the season."

The 5-foot-11, 170-pounder said he's made some positive changes in his game, especially at the plate, since arriving last fall.

"There were some adjustments with my swing mechanically and also mentally," he said. "Just getting up there and having a good approach at the plate and having a good plan. The main thing really has been the mental aspect of it."

Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said Mort's contributions have been valuable.

"He's having a tremendous year. Defensively he's been phenomenal," Bianco said. "He makes all the plays every day and shows up every day. One of the things people may not notice is how heads up he is. He doesn't take a pitch off. He's in the game, and that really makes a difference in his infield play. He gets a good jump on the ball. He's a good baserunner but actually runs very average. But he gets good jumps, sees balls in the dirt, and takes extra bases. Certainly he's a big reason for our success on both sides of the ball this season."

Mort, from South Hills High in West Covina, Calif., and Rio Hondo CC, likes this Rebel team.

"This is probably the closest team I've been on as far as how players are close to each other," he said. "We hang out off the field, too. Everyone is just really close. We do the chants and everything and all the cool things with the hats. Team chemistry is great and they tell me it's better than in previous years."

Ole Miss, 36-14 overall and 16-9 in Southeastern Conference play, meets Mississippi State (22-27, 7-17) in game two of their series today at 3 p.m.


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