If Ole Miss didn’t know who Natalie Fleming was prior to last weekend’s series against No. 11 Missouri (35-12, 12-6 Southeastern Conference), they left Sunday evening having a good idea of what the Tigers’ freshman third baseman was capable of.
After two errors in the field which led to some runs for the Rebels, Fleming redeemed herself by hitting a walk-off home run Friday to give the Tigers their first win of their weekend sweep.
“It was awesome,” senior outfielder Mackenzie Sykes said. “That's the good thing about this sport, is that you can pick yourself up. That was huge, and I'm really happy for her. She had a great day at the plate."
Fleming didn’t stop there though. The Silex, Mo., native homered in each of the final two games of the series to give the Tigers their second consecutive conference sweep going into this week’s big series against Florida.
“The pop is always there, the question is pitch selection and timing,” Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said. “And when she hit the first home run to opposite field, she was smart enough to realize they’re going to go in on her. Then after they did that, she was smart enough to know they were going to throw a changeup because she hit the other stuff out. That’s not typical freshman thinking. She’s been using her brain a bit more lately.”
Fleming admits she’s been more patient at the plate recently and thinks it’s paid off, but also cites her sister, Ashley, a former All-American for the Tigers, as a big reason for why her play has been significantly better as of late.
“There’s been a lot of nights I’ve had to text her and be like ‘I don’t know what to do,’ and she’d respond with some advice,” Fleming said. “She’s definitely been a big part of my freshman year.”
Fleming played shortstop while at Silex High School and has struggled a bit at third base, but she hasn’t been alone.
Earleywine has moved a few players around late in the season. He said Ashley Fleming’s development after a rough freshman season taught him patience with the team’s defense.
“They’ve both got great power and their numbers their freshman year are both going to end up being similar,” Earleywine said. “Ashley’s one of the kids I use to continually remind myself every time I have a freshman class that she hit .230 with five home runs her freshman year and by her senior year was an All-American and by far our best hitter.”
Nevertheless, Earleywine would like to see his third baseman, who is currently hitting .333 with six home runs, improve her defense in the near future, with the Tigers gearing up for big series against both Florida and Alabama.
“She needs to be able to play third base and do it at a higher level than she did tonight,” Earleywine said on Friday. “But I’m sure there’s a lot of nerves in her. She’s only got a couple starts over there. Hopefully she can pick up the pace.”