2019 NCAA Baseball Tournament: Oxford Regional Preview
No. 1 Mississippi vs. No. 4 Jacksonville State (8 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
No. 2 Illinois vs. No. 3 Clemson (4 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
No. 1 Mississippi (37-25)
Season In A Sentence: With a torrid run to the SEC Tournament title game, the Rebels find themselves hosting a regional at the end of a 37-25 season marked by outstanding offensive performances from veterans like Thomas Dillard, Grae Kessinger, Ryan Olenek and Cole Zabowski.
Best Pitcher: RHP Will Ethridge, Jr. — Ethridge has stepped to the front of the rotation effectively for Ole Miss this spring, posting a 2.94 ERA through 82.2 innings pitched. The junior has started 14 games and currently has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of just over three.
Best Hitter: SS Grae Kessinger, Jr. — Kessinger has had a great junior year, hitting .336 with 18 doubles, five home runs and 46 RBIs. Kessinger has struck out just 31 times in 250 at-bats.
Outlook: The Rebels have been a streaky team all season, but right now they’re hot and hosting a regional for the second season in a row. Ole Miss was last year upset in Oxford by Tennessee Tech, and while the Ohio Valley Conference champion is again in its regional, Jacksonville State doesn’t present the same kind of threat. Still, the Rebels are going to need their powerful offense and frontline pitching to produce this weekend in order to get them to super regionals for the first time since 2014.
No. 2 Illinois (36-19)
Season In A Sentence: After narrowly missing out on a regional trip in 2018, the Illini left no doubt in 2019 by going 36-19 despite key contributors such as outfielder Zac Taylor, infielder Ben Troike and starting pitcher Quinn Snarskis missing time due to injury.
Best Pitcher: LHP Andy Fisher, R-Sr. — Fisher has been solid for Illinois, pitching 94.2 innings in route to a 7-1, 2.57. The redshirt senior has 89 strikeouts this year, 32 more than anyone else on the team.
Best Hitter: 2B Michael Massey, Jr. — Massey has been one of the pillars of the Illinois offense this season, hitting .325. He has picked up at least one hit in 11 of his last 12 games heading into the tournament.
Outlook: The Illini went into last weekend’s Big Ten Tournament with an outside chance to play their way into a home regional. Instead, they went 0-2 in Omaha and now must recapture their previous momentum that led to six straight series wins to finish the regular season. Illinois is an older team with something to prove after last year getting left out of the NCAA Tournament. That makes it dangerous, but it’s going to have to play better on the road than it has to this point. Illinois is just 18-15 outside of Champaign this season.
No. 3 Clemson (34-24)
Season In A Sentence: It was a tale of two seasons for Clemson, which began the season with four ACC series wins in five tries and ended with four ACC series losses in its final five chances, but it all culminated in a regional appearance for the 11th consecutive season.
Best Pitcher: LHP Mat Clark, R-So. — At 9-2, 2.84, Clark has had a great year since moving into the rotation. The redshirt sophomore started in 10 of his 13 appearances and pitched 69.2 innings in route to notching an opposition batting average of just .193.
Best Hitter: SS Logan Davidson, Jr. — Davidson and Grayson Byrd have very similar numbers, but Davidson gets the edge because he has 18 more walks but only ten more strikeouts than Byrd. Davidson is hitting .296 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs.
Outlook: The Tigers have star power—Davidson is a potential first-round pick and Clark nearly threw a no-hitter last week at the ACC Tournament—but they just haven’t been consistent over the last month. That’s not a good recipe going into regionals, but if Clark turns in a good start to get the Tigers rolling, they can still make some noise.
No. 4 Jacksonville State (37-21)
BA 500 Prospects: None
Season In A Sentence: The Gamecocks swept through the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, capping off a season that saw them go 37-21 with a 22-8 record in OVC regular season play.
Best Pitcher: RHP Garrett Farmer, R-Jr. — Farmer has been by far the best pitcher on the Gamecocks, throwing 40 more innings than any of his teammates. Farmer is heading into the tournament at 5-1, 2.24 with 104 strikeouts and just 12 walks.
Best Hitter: C Nic Gaddis, Sr. — Gaddis has been the focal point of the Jacksonville State offense coming into the tournament. The senior leads the team in batting average (.333), hits (72) and home runs (13).
Outlook: The Gamecocks this spring were the class of the Ohio Valley Conference and enter the NCAA Tournament on a 12-game winning streak. That streak includes an extra-innings win against Georgia, which will give it confidence, but this weekend is going to be a step up in difficulty for Jacksonville State. Its offense has been humming all season long, but to make noise this weekend, its pitching staff will have to find a way to slow down some powerful offenses.