2018 NCAA Tournament: Oxford Regional Preview
1. Mississippi (46-15, 18-12 Southeastern Conference)
22nd appearance (first since 2016); automatic bid; tied for first in the SEC West Division; SEC Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: LHP Ryan Rolison (21), OF/2B Ryan Olenek (159), C Nick Fortes (191), RHP Brady Feigl (471)
Season In A Sentence: After undergoing a disappointing 2017 season in which the Rebels finished 14-16 in the SEC and failed to make regionals for the first time since 2011, Ole Miss bounced back this year, culminating in a SEC Tournament championship and the No. 4 national seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Player To Watch: Nick Fortes, C: While Rolison has garnered much of the attention due to a fastball that touches 96 mph, Fortes has led the way for the Rebels. In addition to his 11 home runs and 49 RBIs, Fortes boasts a .320 batting average and has impressive patience at the plate, walking 44 times and striking out in only 24 at-bats. The junior was a second team all-SEC selection and won the SEC Tournament's MVP award. He became just the third player in conference history to collect four hits in the SEC championship game in the Rebels' 9-1 win over LSU.
Best Weekend: SEC Tournament, May 23-27. The Rebels certainly did not look on their way to capturing the program's third SEC Tournament championship after losing their first game to Auburn, 9-3. But Ole Miss bounced back, securing an extra-inning win over Georgia and then flattening the Tigers in a rematch, 7-0, on Friday. In the semifinals, Jordan Fowler threw seven shutout innings en route to a 2-1 victory over Texas A&M before the Rebels exploded for nine runs in a beatdown of Louisiana State to claim the tournament title.
Outlook: There is no better place for Ole Miss to play then its home confines of Swayze Field, where the team is 28-4 this season. Winners of 11 of its last 13 games, the Rebels are one of the hottest teams in the country. Ole Miss will need to rely on a strong pitching staff to handle Tennessee Tech, which boasts the most powerful offense in the nation. Fowler (3.18), Greer Holston (3.31) and Rolison (3.79) all own ERAs under four and all three will need to be at their best to propel Ole Miss back to the super regionals for the first time since 2014.
2. Tennessee Tech (48-9, 27-3 Ohio Valley Conference)
Sixth appearance (second straight); at-large bid; first in the Ohio Valley Conference
BA 500 prospects: None.
Season In A Sentence: The Golden Eagles have produced their best season in program history—boasting a league-record 48 wins, including a 28-game winning streak, and lead the nation in nine different statistical categories.
Player To Watch: Kevin Strohschein, DH: The junior is having a season to remember and ranks in the top 20 nationally in multiple offensive categories. His .406 batting average leads the team and ranks fifth in the nation and his 102 hits top all collegiate players. Hitting third in the order, Strohschein has knocked in 65 runs and hit 18 home runs, both of which rank in the top 20 nationally. Strohschein’s outstanding season was rewarded by being named the Ohio Valley Conference player of the year. He will need to continue to shine in order for the Golden Eagles’ dream season to continue.
Best Weekend: at Murray State, April 13-15. Having won 48 games and posting eight weekend sweeps, it’s tough to crown one weekend. However, a 47-run explosion at Murray State in a three-game set is hard to ignore. After scoring nine runs in the first game of a Friday doubleheader, the Golden Eagles followed with 15 runs in the second contest and then steamrolled Murray State, 23-7, on Sunday. Nick Osborne led the way in the series finale, hitting two home runs and driving in eight runs.
Outlook: Tennessee Tech has already produced its best season in program history, breaking league records with 48 wins and an absurd 28 wins in a row. It should come as no surprise that the formula for success will need to be continued strong hitting. The Golden Eagles lead the nation in eight offensive categories, including batting average, runs, home runs and RBIs. The team will need to harness that offensive power in order to keep its special season alive.
3. Missouri State (39-15, 18-3 Missouri Valley Conference)
11th appearance (second straight); automatic bid; first in the Missouri Valley Conference; MVC Tournament Champions
BA 500 prospects: SS Jeremy Eierman (26), RHP Dylan Coleman (131)
Season In A Sentence: Leaving aside a four-game losing streak in mid-April to top-eight seeds Oregon State and Arkansas, Missouri State has been consistent from start to finish and won 12 of its last 13 games, culminating in a Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship.
Player To Watch: Dylan Coleman, RHP: Before the season started, the player to watch was undoubtedly Eierman, but the shortstop has not had the junior campaign some imagined. Coleman, on the other hand, has been excellent, leading the MVC in wins (10), strikeouts (122) and opponent's batting average (.198). The righthander has posted 10 or more strikeouts in four starts this season and became the third Missouri State pitcher to reach 300 strikeouts in his career. He dominated in his only MVC Tournament appearance, posting seven shutout innings and striking out nine in a win over Evansville.
Best Weekend: MVC Tournament, May 23-27. Missouri State cruised to the MVC Tournament championship game, defeating its three opponents by a collective score of 23-8. In the championship game, the Bears needed extra innings to defeat a strong Dallas Baptist squad in Dallas. Trailing 6-4 in the ninth, Missouri State scored two runs to force extra innings and then won the game in the 10th inning thanks to a walk-off single from second baseman John Privitera.
Outlook: Missouri State will need to play its best baseball of the season to get back to the super regionals for a second consecutive year. The Bears will first face off against a Tennessee Tech squad that boasts the top offense in the country. Unfortunately, Missouri State has a 4.23 team ERA despite Coleman's stellar junior campaign.
West Virginia Ace Alek Manoah Brings Big Presence To The Mound
West Virginia righthander Alek Manoah is surging on the mound and draft boards at just the right time.
Saint Louis (38-18, 19-4 Atlantic 10 Conference)
8th appearance (first since 2013); automatic bid; first in the Atlantic 10; A-10 Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: RHP Miller Hogan (468)
Season In A Sentence: After beginning the season with a 1-7 mark, the Billikens won their next 15 games, which was the third-longest winning streak in the nation in 2018, and cruised through conference play en route to the Atlantic 10 regular-season and tournament championships.
Player To Watch: Miller Hogan, RHP: Hogan’s outstanding junior season saw him set the single-season program record for strikeouts with 129 and win the Atlantic 10 pitcher of the year award. The righthander posted a 2.19 ERA and won 10 games in 15 starts. Hogan also reached the century mark in innings pitched (102.2) and owns an opponent's batting average below the Mendoza line (.196).
Best Weekend: A-10 Tournament, May 24-26. The Billikens won the A-10 Tournament by posting a 3-0 mark, including a 5-0 shutout win over George Mason in the championship game. Saint Louis needed an unlikely comeback just to reach the title game, however, after it fell behind George Mason, 4-1, on Friday. The Billikens scored three runs in the eighth and ninth innings to force extras before an RBI single from Carter Hanfold won the game in the 11th.
Outlook: Statistically, Saint Louis boasts the best pitching staff of any team in the regional, owning a 3.32 that ranks 16th in the country. Hogan leads the way, but he has some help. Drew Reveno posted a team-best 1.84 ERA and, like Hogan, has 10 wins this season. Hogan and Reveno, along with Jackson Wark (9-2, 3.40 ERA), will need to be great in order to give the Billikens any hope of extending their tournament run.