OXFORD – The SEC softball tournament championship brought notoriety and excitement to Ole Miss.
It didn’t end the season.
The Rebels are hoping to ride a wave of momentum to a regional championship on their own campus. First they have to make sure they come down from the mountaintop clear-headed.
“Yeah, we did that,” says outfielder Elantra Cox. “Now it’s back to playing.”
Ole Miss (40-18) takes on Southern Illinois tonight at approximately 8:30. No. 2 seed North Carolina and No. 3 seed Arizona State begin the regional at 6 p.m.
The Ole Miss Softball Complex seats 1,000 fans. Temporary bleachers in right field will accommodate roughly 500 more.
The regional is a sellout. There is no live television for the Ole Miss-SIU game, but live streaming is available online through ESPN.
North Carolina (38-19) finished third in the ACC, a half game behind Louisville. Arizona State (30-20) tied for third in the Pac-12 but with just a 9-15 record.
SIU (33-22) was third in the Missouri Valley Conference but defeated No. 1 seed Northern Iowa to claim the league’s automatic berth.
“Their girls square up on balls. They’re a talented bunch,” Ole Miss coach Mike Smith said.
Smith expects no easy outs in the first regional hosted by Ole Miss.
Players who have not dealt with the side benefits of such success expect to be mentally sharp. Focusing on the game between the lines will help them win the game between the ears, they said.
“Softball is softball. It hasn’t changed since we were little kids. We have to go out on that field no matter who’s out there, no matter what the hype is or what all the talk is. We go out there and play softball,” senior catcher Courtney Syrett said.
Junior right-handed pitcher Kaitlyn Lee, who threw 440 pitches en route to four wins and SEC MVP honors, may not throw any pitches on the regional’s opening day. Smith says his starting pitcher will be a game-time decision.
Lee is 20-10 with a 1.78 ERA. She’s thrown 220 innings, 57 percent of the team’s total.
Cox leads the team with a .417 batting average and also leads in hits and runs.
“Any time you do something spectacular, something unprecedented, there’s going to be an emotional high,” Smith said. “We’ve talked about that. Our ultimate goal is to get to Oklahoma City and play for (the national championship). These girls will be ready and focused.”