The Ole Miss baseball team earned a No. 12 seed hosting bid in the 2019 NCAA Regional. They’ll have to navigate through Illinois, Clemson and Jacksonville State to reach the Super Regionals next weekend. We’ll take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of every team in the field.
No. 1: Ole Miss (37-25, 16-14)
Ole Miss is coming off a loss at the SEC Championship. They led 9-1 against Vanderbilt in the 3rd inning before falling 11-10. The Rebels lost two games to ACC opponent Louisville earlier this season and did not play any Big 10 opponents.
The Rebels are 22-9 at home and are also hoping to continue their strong offense with four players batting over .300 in senior Ryan Olenek (.346), junior Grae Kessinger (.336) who was 1st team all SEC, and junior Cole Zabowski and junior Thomas Dillard (both .305).
Head coach Mike Bianco said third baseman Tyler Keenan looked good in batting practice on Thursday and is still hopeful he’ll be able to go this weekend. Keenan left the SEC Championship with a shoulder injury after sliding into base.
Will Ethridge will take his position as the first starter for the Rebels on Friday night. The pitching staff for Ole Miss had a new energy in Hoover with freshmen starters Doug Nikhazy and Gunnar Hogland continuing their success and the bullpen anchoring down in relief. Strong offense and depth on the mound make this a regional the Rebels should expect to win.
No. 2 Illinois (36-19, 15-9)
The Fighting Illini used their No. 28 RPI ranking to get to the tournament for the first time since 2015. They were eliminated from the Big 10 Tournament after losing games against Maryland and Michigan. Illinois defeated one ACC team, Wake Forest, and did not play any SEC opponents this season.
They were in an out of the top-25 all season and were a solid 2 seed with the eye test. Illinois is 15-11 on the road and 3-4 at neutral sites. They have three players batting over .300; senior Grant Van Scoy (.347), senior Zac Taylor (.331) and junior Michael Massey (.325).
Head coach Dan Hartleb, in his 14th season at Illinois, has elected to hold his left-handed ace Andy Fisher with a possible matchup against Ole Miss on the horizon. Ty Weber will start for Illinois in game one against Clemson. In the bullpen, the Illini have Garrett Action, who leads the nation in saves with 19 in his 29 appearances on the season.
No. 3 Clemson (36-19, 15-9)
Clemson comes to the regional with an RPI of 38. They are 1-4 against SEC teams, losing a series to South Carolina and two games to Georgia, once at home and once on the road.
Clemson was a bubble team, but looked good enough to the committees to get a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Clemson is 10-11 on the road and 3-1 at neutral sites. They have two players batting over .300; senior Grayson Byrd (.315) and sophomore Kier Meredith (.318)
Monte Lee will start Jacob Hennessy in game one, also hoping to pitch a left-hander in Mat Clark against Ole Miss in game two.
No. 4 Jacksonville State (37-21, 22-8)
The Gamecocks have a No. 89 ranking in the RPI and won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament to get an automatic NCAA bid. Jacksonville State comes from the same conference as Tennessee Tech, but are not the same offensive nightmare the Golden Eagles were at the plate last year.
They are, however, on a 12-game winning streak coming into the weekend. Jacksonville State has won two of five against SEC teams, beating Auburn and Georgia in midweek games. Jacksonville State won a series against North Alabama, who the Rebels dropped a game against.
They are 2-1 vs Big 10, winning a series against Purdue and did not play any ACC competition. Jacksonville State is 14-10 away and 3-0 at neutral sites. They have two players batting over .300 in senior Nic Gaddis (.333) and junior Alex Webb (.308).
Game one between Clemson and Illinois will start at 3 p.m. Friday, followed by game two between Jacksonville State and Ole Miss at 7 p.m.