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COOKIN’ AT HOME: Rebels’ Lartigue excelling at — and behind — plate

Henri Lartigue has been there for nearly three years. For two of those, he had to wait behind Will Allen and Austin Knight before getting his turn.

This season was his chance, and the junior catcher has made the most of it.

He is leading the No. 10 Rebels offensively with a batting average of .348 as well as a team-best .371 average after completing their Southeastern Conference slate last weekend.

The surge at the plate came from a choice Lartigue made last fall where he decided to take a new approach.

“I just changed my approach to stay in the middle of the field and not worry about the results,” Lartigue said. “This year, I just told myself in batting practice from Day 1 I was going to try and hit the ball off the L-screen. From then on, I just try to stick with that approach.”

The results were immediate for the Rebels’ lone switch hitter. In his freshman year, Lartigue had only 10 at-bats for only one hit, a double. His sophomore season where he traded time with Knight behind the plate saw his average raise to .233 after 89 at-bats. The increase from last year to this season is over 100 points, and he has 23 more hits than he did a year ago.

“He’s a guy we always knew had the potential, a guy that even last year at times batted third in the lineup but just couldn’t do it day to day,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said of Lartigue. “He’s been one of the biggest contributors and one of the most consistent hitters. I don’t know if anybody’s really played better than him offensively from Game 1.”

Clutch moments

Lartigue has had the flair for the dramatic at the plate this season, contributing to two walk-off wins in recent weeks. The first came against Auburn in the series finale. After outfielder Ryan Olenek’s game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth, Lartigue hit the game-winning RBI single to complete Ole Miss’ sweep over the Tigers on April 24.

He struck again in the home finale against Kentucky with a game-winning, two-run home run in the ninth inning that completed the comeback and gave the Rebels another series sweep.

“I just stick with my routine,” Lartigue said when asked if he changes anything during big at-bats such as those. “I go up and do the same thing, drawing in the box, sweeping through. I check out my signals, stare at my bat, take a deep breath and I look at the left-field foul pole. I do that every time I walk up there. That’s what you know it’s just another at-bat.”

Lartigue follows a long line of top-tier catching talent with Allen, Knight and Stuart Turner as well as others. He joins Turner and Allen as a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award, honoring the top catcher in college baseball. Turner won it in 2013 with Allen missing out a season later. Lartigue has a chance to bring home the hardware for Ole Miss for the second time in four years as he is one of the premier catchers in the SEC, earning first-team All-SEC honors on Monday along with Woodman.

“Ton of credit to our coaches,” Lartigue said. “They were all catchers and all do a tremendous job of just getting us ready so we can go out there and perform well. I can’t thank them enough for how much they’ve helped me over the years.”

Through 56 games of the regular season, Lartigue has thrown out 11 of 35 runners trying to steal a base and has 25 assists to four errors to go with a .990 fielding percentage.