2019 NCAA Baseball Tournament: Starkville Regional Preview
No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 4 Southern (1 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
No. 2 Miami vs. No. 3 Central Michigan (8 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
No. 1 Mississippi State (46-13)
Season In A Sentence: Behind one of the best one-two rotation punches in the nation in lefthander Ethan Small and freshman righthander J.T. Ginn, the Bulldogs sprinted to a 46-13 record and 20-10 mark in the SEC to secure the No. 6 overall seed in Chris Lemonis’ first year at the helm.
Best Pitcher: LHP Ethan Small, R-Jr. — Small, the SEC pitcher of the year, went 8-1, 1.80 in 90 innings. He ranks second in the nation with 150 strikeouts and has established himself as the Bulldogs most reliable pitcher over the last two years.
Best Hitter: OF Jake Mangum, Sr. — Mangum has been at the heart of the Bulldogs’ success over the last four years and will be central to it again this postseason. He this year broke the SEC’s career hits record and ranks sixth in NCAA history with 372 career hits. This year, he’s hitting .363/.419/.476 with 67 runs.
Outlook: The Bulldogs are 32-5 at home this season and this weekend may have the biggest home-field advantage in the country, as attendance records may fall for the first home regional in the new Dudy Noble Field. Mississippi State has advanced to super regionals for three years in a row and seem well-positioned to extend that streak this weekend.
No. 2 Miami (39-18)
Season In A Sentence: The Hurricanes fell just short of a hosting a regional at Mark Light Field but enter the Starkville Regional as a dangerous No. 2 seed with a 39-18 overall record, an 18-12 mark in ACC play and a physical offense led by first baseman Alex Toral.
Best Pitcher: RHP Brian Van Belle, R-Jr. — Named all-ACC second team, Van Belle went 9-2, 3.30 this spring. In 87.1 innings pitched, Van Belle has 76 strikeouts and held opponents to 23 walks and a .247 batting average.
Best Hitter: OF Adrian Del Castillo, Fr. — Named all-ACC second team and all-ACC freshman team, Castillo has been a strong bat in the lineup for the Canes. He’s hitting .329/.4149.543 with nine home runs and 65 RBIs.
Outlook: After a two-year absence, the Hurricanes are making their return to the NCAA Tournament under first-year head coach Gino DiMare. Miami has put together a strong season despite some injuries on the mound. The Hurricanes have gotten healthier in the last couple of weeks, but they haven’t been the same team away from home this season and didn’t win a road series against a regional team this year. Now, it has the unenviable task of playing in Starkville in the postseason. If Miami is going to pull the upset, it’ll need righthanders Chris McMahon and Evan McKendry to step up.
No. 3 Central Michigan (46-12)
BA 500 Prospects: None
Season In A Sentence: What a first year it was for head coach Jordan Bischel, as the Chippewas finished the season 46-12, won the Mid-American Conference with a 22-5 record and come into regionals on an 18-game winning streak.
Best Pitcher: RHP Pat Leatherman, Sr. — Leatherman is 10-1, 2.56 with 83 strikeouts and 25 walks in 84.1 innings. He’s been the Chippewas most consistent pitcher all season and brings experience to the staff.
Best Hitter: C/INF Zavier Warren, So. — Warren is the Chippewas’ leading hitter, posting a .356/.485/.568 line this season. He has scored 71 runs, driven in 68 and drawn 54 walks.
Outlook: Only five teams in the country have more wins than Central Michigan, but this is a significant step up in competition for the Chippewas. They only played three games against top-100 opposition this season and they lost that series at Illinois State. There are some seniors on the roster who were a part of the Central Michigan team that played at Arkansas in 2016, but otherwise, no one on the roster will have seen anything like the environment they’re walking into this weekend in Starkville. The path to an upset runs through Central Michigan’s offense, which averages 8.6 runs per game thanks to a good mix of power and speed.
No. 4 Southern (32-22)
BA 500 Prospects: None
Season In A Sentence: When head coach Kerrick Jackson took over at Southern, he was taking over a program that was in APR hot water and wasn’t winning very many games, but two years later, he has the Jaguars on the right path academically and in regionals after a Southwest Athletic Conference Tournament title to cap off a 32-22 campaign.
Best Pitcher: RHP Eli Finney, Jr. — In 64.2 innings pitched, Finney was 6-2, 4.45 with 49 strikeouts and 23 walks. He threw seven innings in Southern’s victory at LSU earlier this season, allowing one hit, one run and striking out seven.
Best Hitter: INF Tyler LaPorte, Sr. — LaPorte was the SWAC co-player of the year and leads the Southern offense with a .389 average. He has six home runs, 64 RBIs and 60 runs.
Outlook: Southern won just nine games a year ago and has undergone one of the biggest turnarounds in the country in Jackson’s second season. The Jaguars own a win at Louisiana State, so they shouldn’t be awed by the stage in Starkville. But there’s still a big difference between beating LSU in a midweek game and taking on Mississippi State when it’s throwing its weekend arms.