Swayze Field, Oxford, Miss. (Host: Ole Miss)
No. 3 Georgia Tech (36-25, 14-16 in ACC) Roster | Statistics
30th appearance (seven straight), automatic, fifth place in ACC Coastal in regular season and ACC tournament champion
Top 200 Prospects: LHP Sam Clay (147)
No. 4 Jacksonville State (36-25, 18-12 in OVC) Roster | Statistics
Fourth appearance (last in 2010), automatic, third place in Ohio Valley Conference regular season, OVC tournament champion
Top 200 Prospects: None
Ole Miss was chosen as a regional host for the sixth time in the program’s history, but for the first time since 2009. All six have come under head coach Mike Bianco’s stewardship. The Rebs drew a tough regional with high-RPI types such as Georgia Tech and Washington, but this team stands out for the physicality and depth of its lineup, which ranks 14th nationally in batting. Ole Miss is also an extremely balanced team, with three proven weekend starters, good defense, and athleticism in the outfield. Ole Miss took first place in the SEC West thanks to a veteran-laden lineup led by multi-talented junior CF Auston Bousfield (.349/.397/.490, 5 HR, 16 SB) seniors Will Allen (.352/.388/.530, 7 HR) and Austin Anderson (.329/.417./.468). Bianco has not revealed his rotation, but righthanders Chris Ellis and Sam Smith plus lefty Christian Trent gives him three steady options. A scout who saw the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Ellis earlier this season said he was impressed with Ellis’ ability to command his fastball, which he said ranged from 88-92, sitting mostly at 90-91. Ellis also has a good weapon against righties in his power curveball. Trent, who missed the SEC tournament with stiffness but should be fine for this week, will be 88-92 with an 80 mph slider and excellent change, and works both sides of the plate. Righthander Aaron Greenwood (2-1, 1.96) is the moment-of-truth man in the bullpen, an experienced veteran with good downward angle on his 88-90 fastball and an effective big-breaking low-80s slider. Junior righty Josh Laxer (1.47, 5 SV) has the filthiest stuff on the staff, with a 93-95 fastball and a sharp 81-83 slider.
In addition to its balanced, experienced lineup, Washington is also dangerous because it feels it was snubbed over not receiving a regional host spot and having to travel to Oxford. The Huskies—in the postseason for the first time since 2004, when Tim Lincecum was a freshman—went 18-9 away from their new ballpark in Seattle this season. It’s a veteran club for coach Lindsay Meggs, loaded with gamers who know how to execute his West Coast offense (which ranks second in the nation in sacrifice bunts and 17th in hit-by-pitches). Senior Brian Wolfe (.361/.417/.512, 5 HR, 35 RBI) and junior Trevor Mitsui (.335/.419/.467, 5 HR, 32 RBI) blossomed into dangerous run producers this spring. Ultra-athletic CF Braden Bishop (.296/.381/.355, 19-for-21 SB) is a disruptive leadoff man, while 2B Andrew Ely (.306/.398/.409) has advanced bat-handling skills and fits perfectly in the 2-hole. That duo plus shortstop Erik Forgione and catcher Austin Rei make Washington exceptional defensively up the middle. The rotation features three quality starters, led by junior righthander Tyler Davis (10-2, 1.75). Meggs described Davis’ 85-88 fastball as “just firm enough” that he can effectively sneak it in on hitters, but his plus changeup is his calling card. Davis struck out just 54 in nearly 100 IP, but opponents are batting .241 against him. Jeff Brigham, a 6-foot, 183-pound junior righty, is a groundball machine thanks to the incredible arm-side bore on his 90-94 mph fastball, and Jared Fisher also has firm stuff from the right side. UW’s bullpen has a quartet of trusted options in lefthander Will Ballowe plus righties Troy Rallings, Trevor Dunlap and Brandon Choate. Their bullpen and defense make them very good in close games.
ACC champion Georgia Tech went just 14-16 in conference in the regular season, but got on a roll in Greensboro to win the conference tournament for the second time in three years. Tech has appeared in seven consecutive regionals and 28 of the past 30. Coach Danny Hall’s team has reached the regional final in each of the past six years, including last year in Nashville when the Jackets took overall No. 2 seed Vanderbilt to a winner-take-all game. But this is a different Georgia Tech team, one with fewer draft prospects, but steadier defense. Freshmen third basemen Brandon Gold has provided stellar defense, pushing 3-hole hitter Matt Gonzalez to left field. Another freshman, Connor Justus, is fielding .966 at shortstop, emerging as the linchpin of the defense. Senior Mott Hyde has settled in at second after early-career struggles at short, and former middle-infielder Thomas Smith, a walk-on now batting cleanup, is a secure defender at first base. Daniel Spingola (.328/.393/.463, 36 RBI, 15 SB) leads the team in hitting, slugging and RBIs, while stopper Dusty Isaacs (7-5, 1.81, 7 SV) leads the Georgia Tech pitching staff thanks to his solid fastball and swing-and-miss curve. Lefty Sam Clay (4-1, 1.33, 8 SV) leads the team with 63 strikeouts in just 54 innings thanks to an 89-93 fastball that can reach 95 and a wipeout slider in the mid-80s, making the bullpen the greatest strength of this team. Pitchability lefty Devin Stanton (5-3, 2.27) and 6-foot-4 righty Josh Heddinger (4-4, 3.64) lead a rotation that has been up-and-down.
Jacksonville State, coached by Jim Case, won the OVC by winning six straight elimination games after losing its opener, becoming the first team in tournament history to pull off that feat. That run was capped by three wins in two days against the tournament’s top two seeds, Tennessee Tech and Southeast Missouri State. The Gamecocks faced Ole Miss in 2002 and got swept in the only meeting between the teams. Senior outfielder Griff Gordon leads Jacksonville State with a .376 batting average, seven home runs and 49 RBIs, while junior righty Zachary Fowler leads the pitching staff with seven wins and 88 IP. Case calls his club a great mix of young talent and senior leadership, which showed in the run to the OVC crown. Fowler pitched 7 2/3 innings in JSU’s OVC championship game victory over Tennessee Tech, allowing just five hits and striking out six. Junior relief pitcher Travis Stout, who picked up the save in that game, has 15 saves on the year, and has tied the school career record with 32 saves, which is also tied for the second most in OVC history. But this is an offense-oriented team that excels at driving the gaps, as evidenced by its 125 doubles (fourth-most in the nation). Still, the Gamecocks are a heavy underdog in a regional loaded with quality power-conference teams.