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Ole Miss vs. Arizona: On reunions, baseball backgrounds, good manners and great catches

How did Ole Miss softball coach Mike Smith know Taryne Mowatt before he hired her?

Photo via @OleMissSoftball

The Arizona Wildcats will face off against the Ole Miss Rebels on Friday afternoon. The Rebels are looking for their first trip to the Women’s College World Series, while the Wildcats are trying to get back for the first time in nearly a decade.

Arizona may be the more storied program, but the teams have a few things in common, including the Taryne Mowatt connection.

Let’s get to know the Rebels...

Ole Miss coach Mike Smith and the Mowatt family

Mike Smith didn’t hire Mowatt simply because of her history at Arizona. He knew her long before she applied for the position of pitching coach on his staff.

“So, the relationship Taryne and I had is I actually recruited her younger sister when I was at California Baptist University,” Smith said. “So I recruited her, she committed to us, and when I got offered the job at McNeese State, I left and made that phone call to her letting her know that I was leaving. And so that’s kind of where that relationship was. I knew Taryne through that process, coaching in Riverside, which is where Cal Baptist was. Taryne played at Santiago High School, and, so, I had known her, watched her play. So, we had that relationship there. And then I knew she had coached at Cal Baptist for Bill Baber, who was my assistant, who became the head coach after I left.”

Pitcher Brittany Finney is powerful on the field and very polite off it

For most Arizona fans, the most interesting things about Finney are her performance in the circle this year and the fact that she was born in Tucson. When meeting her in person, though, one of the things that sticks out is how polite she is. Finney began most of her responses to the media’s questions on Thursday with, “Yes, ma’am,” or “No, sir.”

Outfielder Kylan Becker knows how to steal one

In the Oxford Regional, Ole Miss had to win three straight elimination games to grab their spot in Tucson. Becker’s defense was crucial in that streak.

In the second inning of the final game against Louisiana, Becker robbed Ragin’ Cajun outfielder Julie Rawls of a home run.

“I knew that was going to be close to the fence,” Becker said. “We practice every day; I try my best to catch anything that’s out there. And really just a matter of timing it well and jumping up and trying to catch it.”

With Arizona’s home-run hitting, she may be in that position again. If so, she thinks she has a chance to repeat the feat. She’s been working on it since arriving in Tucson.

“Here the wall's just slightly higher than ours, about the same,” she said. “And with the ball traveling so fast out of here, we worked on it already. And I think I’ll be able to do the same thing. Hopefully with this wall I can jump over it a little bit. So if anything goes out there, we’ll see.”

Despite baseball roots, ‘my heart’s in softball’

Considering how many girls start out playing baseball before switching to softball, it’s not unexpected to find that men involved in the sport also began in the other diamond sport. For Smith, it wasn’t just coaching. He also pitched in the minor league system of the St. Louis Cardinals, reaching the AA level. Today, though, he’s happy that he switched focus.

“I was actually coaching the baseball team of Biola University out in California,” Smith said about his start in softball. “I’m from Southern California, and I was a pitching coach there. They were taking their softball team from a club to bring it into the conference, and the AD came up to me and wanted to know if I’d be interested in coaching softball and getting paid to do it. I was a volunteer for the baseball program. And maybe, you know, I want to think about it a little bit. Wasn’t sure going from guys to girls and how that would turn out.

“But best thing that I ever did. Fell in love with the game and, you know, 22 years later, here I am. But like I said, best decision. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to go back (to baseball)—coach, scout, play even at times. But my heart’s in softball, and I love the game. I’m passionate about it. And I live sleep and breathe each and every day. Mike (Candrea) is a Hall of Famer. You know, Mike has a lot of baseball roots. Same thing with John Rittman from Stanford.”

Candrea and Smith will lead their teams into the Super Regional beginning at 4 p.m. MST on Friday, May 24.