2022 NCAA Tournament Hattiesburg Regional Preview
No. 1 Southern Mississippi vs. No. 4 Army (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
No. 2 Louisiana State vs. No. 3 Kennesaw State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
No. 1 Southern Mississippi (43-16)
Season in a Sentence: Led by a pitching staff that was often dominant, Southern Miss lived up to its reputation as the surest thing in this iteration of Conference USA, as it went 43-16 overall and 23-7 in C-USA play, not only leading the Golden Eagles to winning the conference title by three games but also earning them a spot as a host for the third time in program history.
Best Pitcher: Tanner Hall, RHP—You could throw a dart at a list of Southern Miss pitchers and feel pretty confident that the name you hit would be a pretty good candidate for this distinction, but Hall’s numbers are particularly astounding. He’s 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA, an eye-popping 130-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .228 opponent batting average in 93.2 innings.
Best Hitter: Slade Wilks—Shortstop Dustin Dickerson is leading the team in hitting at .340 and he hit .380 in C-USA play, but Wilks packs some real power in addition to hitting for a solid average. For the season, he’s hitting .292/.407/.542 with 16 doubles and 10 home runs, which is a big jump from his freshman season, when he was mired in a season-long funk that ended with him hitting just .158.
Outlook: Southern Miss has a surplus of high-end pitching, and it’s probably going to need it to get out of this regional, especially if it plays multiple games against the powerful LSU lineup. USM has power in its lineup, so it’s not as if it can’t win slugfests, but it would be much more comfortable playing games with final scores on the lower end of the spectrum.
No. 2 Louisiana State (38-20)
Season in a Sentence: In a season marked by consistent offensive performance and tinkering on the mound in an attempt to find the right combination, LSU might not have lived up to the preseason expectation of being a host team and possible top-eight seed and inconsistent performance has been a theme, but it’s still a team that’s shown Omaha upside at times.
Best Pitcher: Ma’Khail Hilliard, RHP—There are others on the LSU pitching staff with better stuff, and there are a whole host of relievers who have been essential to the Tigers’ success, but no pitcher has been as important to LSU’s success as Hilliard, who is the starting pitcher who most consistently gives the team length in his starts. He has a 4.04 ERA and a 68-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 71.1 innings.
Best Hitter: Dylan Crews, OF—Crews has been as advertised and then some in his LSU career. This season, he’s hitting .345/.456/.690 with 21 home runs and 68 RBIs, bringing his career numbers to .354/.455/.676 with 39 home runs and 110 RBIs. He’s considered the early favorite to go first overall in the 2023 draft for a reason.
Outlook: LSU found a formula that worked in scoring a bunch of runs and then throwing a whole bunch of different looks at the opponent on the mound. If LSU finds itself in a bunch of high-scoring games this weekend, it has to like its chances. Things get dicier if it has to win games in a different way, especially if it runs up against USM and its talented pitching staff.
No. 3 Kennesaw State (35-26)
All-Conference Team Honorees: OF Josh Hatcher (1st), 1B Donovan Cash (2nd), SS Tyler Simon (2nd)
Season in a Sentence: Kennesaw State got off to a quick start in 2022, to the point where it looked for a short period of time like the program might be in position to host a regional come the end of the season, and while the Owls cooled off over the second half of the campaign and eventually looked like a team that was going to end up on the wrong side of the at-large bubble, they left no doubt by winning the auto bid in the ASUN Tournament.
Best Pitcher: John Bezdicek, LHP—A transfer from Division II Southwest Minnesota State, Bezdicek stepped right into the KSU rotation this season and held his own. He has a 5-1 record with a 3.75 ERA, 81 strikeouts compared to 31 walks and a .210 opponent batting average in 74.1 innings. He and righthander Jack Myers (5-3, 4.01) give the Owls a sturdy one-two punch in the rotation.
Best Hitter: Josh Hatcher, OF—After winning a national title with Mississippi State last season, Hatcher used his graduate year to play at KSU, where he immediately became a star. He has a .386/.444/.648 slash line with 25 doubles, 13 home runs, 55 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. Hatcher has been the ringleader on a team that hit .301 overall and .314 in ASUN competition.
Outlook: This regional is a tough draw for Kennesaw State because the two best teams in the regional want to win different ways. Against USM, it’s going to have to try to do something against a seemingly endless staff of talented arms, and against LSU, it’s going to have to try to slow down an offense that can’t really be slowed down when it’s going well. It goes without saying, but the opening game against LSU is crucial, because KSU will be able to throw one of its best arms at the Tigers’ vaunted lineup, and similarly, staying in the winner’s bracket is of the utmost importance because the Owls frankly don’t have the pitching depth USM has.
2023 Pac-12 Conference College Baseball Preview
The Pac-12 should be highly competitive once again, with multiple teams having the talent to make a run to the College World Series.
No. 4 Army (31-23)
All-Conference Team Honorees: SP Connelly Early (1st), RP Tanner Gresham (1st), 1B Ross Friedrick (1st), 2B Derek Berg (1st), SS Kevin Dubrule (1st), 3B Sam Ruta (1st), OF Nick Manesis (1st), SP Brian Dawson (2nd), OF Hunter Meade (2nd)
Season in a Sentence: Army’s dynasty in the Patriot League continues, as it won the conference regular-season title by four games and then beat Bucknell in the Patriot League Championship Series to clinch its fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Best Pitcher: Connelly Early, LHP—Because of injuries to fellow starting pitchers Patrick Melampy and Anthony LoRicco at various points of the season, Army wouldn’t be where it is if not for the performance of Early. He has a 7-3 record with a 3.39 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 79.2 innings and he’s holding opponents to a .213 batting average.
Best Hitter: Sam Ruta, 3B—Ruta received significant interest from professional baseball coming out of high school in 2020 before ultimately deciding to head to West Point, and his performance thus far shows why he was considered a prospect. This season, he’s hitting .385/.491/.609 with 14 doubles, four triples, six home runs and 35 RBIs.
Outlook: Army has proven to be a tricky opponent before. In 2018, it upset host team NC State in the Raleigh Regional, and last season it played well against Texas Tech in the opening game before ultimately falling. The Black Knights are always going to be a tough assignment because they play a different style than what most major conference teams see in that they like to apply constant pressure and make things happen on the bases. If Army does that again this time around, it will be a real pest at the very least, but don’t write off the idea that it could win a game or two playing that way.