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Ole Miss’ Kylan Becker eager to live up to ‘hype’ coming with new season

It’s been a different kind of offseason for Kylan Becker.

That’s not a bad thing for Becker, who’s been showered with the kind of honors never before bestowed on an Ole Miss softball player. But the Rebels’ rising junior outfielder is also ready for the games to begin so she can start trying to prove she’s worth all the hype.

One of the breakout stars in helping lead Ole Miss’ emergence on the national scene a season ago, Becker was named to the coaches’ preseason All-SEC team in January, joining teammate Elantra Cox as the first Ole Miss players to ever earn the honor in the program’s 22-year history. That happened just weeks after Becker became the first player in school history to represent her country on the national team after being selected to the USA Softball Japan All-Star Series roster.

“Instead of getting more cocky, I get the opposite like, ‘Crap, I need to do good so people get the hype,’ instead of just doing bad and they think I just got lucky or something,” Becker said. “To me, all these honors are more of the reason I go and hit extra. It drives me to want to do better so that I can prove why I’ve been given this.”

Becker’s .375 average was the second-highest clip on the team a season ago, pairing with Cox, who set a single-season record for hits (93) on the way to a team-best .429 average, to set the tone at the top of the Rebels’ lineup. Hitting out of the two-hole, Becker also posted a .422 on-base percentage, had 31 RBIs and scored 34 runs.

“It’s hard to get us out because some fielders don’t really know where to play us because we might bunt, we might hit the ball over your head and we might just put a little ground ball that we could beat out,” Becker said. “I think it’s just having a lot in our toolboxes is what helps us.”

Acquiring some of those tools has been a two-year process for Becker, who originally committed to FIU before following then-FIU coach Jake Schumann to Oxford when Ole Miss coach Mike Smith hired Schumann as the Rebels’ associate head coach before the 2015 season. Schumann left for Iowa after just one season on Ole Miss’ staff, but Becker stuck with the Rebels and started 55 games as a true freshman in 2016, hitting .294 with a .369 on-base percentage. It was a season that served as a feeling-out process for Becker and Smith, who gave Becker more freedom at the plate last season after realizing there was more than speed to her offensive game.

“Her first year, I think she struggled understanding what we wanted out of her,” Smith said. “She was kind of more of a slapper, maybe a two- or three-tool slapper, and last year we saw a little bit of power and kind of had a couple of straight-swing (batting practice) rounds where I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this kid can swing it.’ We kind of let her come into her own a little bit last year, and she really flourished.

“I think giving her the opportunity to kind of let her do what she wanted to do at the plate I think really kind of gave her a lot more confidence. Now it’s taken off.”

The biggest adjustment will come defensively with Becker making the move from right field to center, one that will be more mental than physical for the fleet-footed Becker. Her nine outfield assists were tied for the team lead a season ago.

“I’ve got to have the mentality that every ball is my ball,” Becker said of the mindset that comes with the position change. “I just have a lot more ground to cover. I could long-hop balls from right field. Now in center, I’m in that awkward range where it’s like, ‘I’ve got to hit them in the chest.’ I have to put a little more oomph in my throws, but I feel good out there. “

It’s part of the process Becker is going through to do her part in helping prove that Ole Miss’ historic season wasn’t a fluke. Fresh off their first-ever SEC Tournament championship, a regional title and the first super regional appearance in program history, the Rebels will begin the 2018 season Feb. 9 at the Sand Dollar Classic in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

“I’m just working on improving every part of my game because I know now that there’s a target on my back,” Becker said. “Last year, people took us for granted and didn’t think we would beat them. We ended up on top (in the SEC), and now we all have a target on our back.”

Smith doesn’t expect Becker to have much trouble dealing with her newfound expectations.

“She has such a quiet confidence about her. She’s very humble in all that stuff,” Smith said. “She’s just a good overall kid that gets it, loves the game, loves her teammates, works hard and wants to be the best at what she does.

“Kylan is a kid that’s going to be a household name. That kid is really good.”