By Maren Angus
Eight throws and eight hits was all she had to prove she belonged.
She had four balls to throw to third base and four balls to throw home. Then, she had eight balls to hit off a machine. Base running was timed from home to first followed by home to second.
“Initially I thought I would do it because Coach (Mike) Smith wanted me to,” said Ole Miss outfielder Kylan Becker. “The likelihood of me getting picked out of eight throws and eights hits is probably really slim. I told myself I would go out there and do my best but I wasn’t expecting this.”
This is a spot one of the two USA Softball Women’s National Teams competing at the Japan All-Star Series and the World Cup of Softball in the summer.
“They sent an email to us at noon on the Saturday following the tryout,” said Becker. “I was packing up my car to go back to Oxford. I was actually planning on leaving at 12 but obviously I stayed a little bit longer.”
In just two seasons at the University of Mississippi, Becker has become the first Rebels softball player to be named All-SEC First Team and now, the first to make a U.S. National Team.
“It means a lot to me,” she said about being the first. “I hope it brings more people to the school that have dreams of being in the Olympics, open doors and puts Ole Miss on people’s radar.”
Ole Miss almost didn’t happen for the Miami-native who verbally committed to Florida International.
“When I took the job at Ole Miss, I hired Jake Schumann who she committed to at FIU,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Smith. “Jake had talked to the family when he left and wanted to know if we would be interested in her. I went to watch her play out in Colorado and we brought her to Oxford for a visit. She fell in love with the place and we fell in love with her and her family.”
Smith and assistant coach Katie Rietkovich call Becker a five-tool slapper. Meaning she can bunt, she can run, she can high hop, she can hit for power and swing away. Which is ironic for someone who didn’t learn how to slap until her freshman year of high school. Before then, she was a right-handed hitter.
When the outfielder arrived on campus in the fall of 2015, she had about three and a half of the five tools. When the 2017 season started, she showed everyone what hard work can do when she hit a home run in the first game of the season and finished second in batting average (.375), at bats (200), hits (75), triples (4), total bases (90) and slugging percentage (.450). She also finished with a 1.000 fielding percentage, recording 45 putouts and nine assists.
“I really think she’s going to be better as crazy as that sounds,” said Smith. “She’s not the type of kid who puts a lot of pressure on herself. She’s got a great work ethic and she’s that kid that you root for day in and day out.”
Becker will most likely stay in the two-spot of the batting lineup when the season starts next month. She might even start to swing away more than she has in the past. On defense, she will take over in centerfield.
“She’s a great teacher. She’s great with our young kids, our freshman and she’s really been a good mentor,” said Smith. “I hope that I can find more recruits like her in the future.”