These aren’t household names – ballpark names? – that are coming to Oxford for the regional. Tennessee Tech, Missouri State, St. Louis. But they are hardly chumps. Tech has 48 wins and is ranked 25th by Baseball America. Missouri State is No. 23 and won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. St. Louis won the regular season and tourney titles in the Atlantic 10. Fourth-ranked (and national 4-seed) Ole Miss isn’t likely to coast through to the Super Regional round. The Rebels likely will face a stern test in Friday’s opener against St. Louis’ Miller Hogan, the A-10 pitcher of the year and a 10-game winner with strikeout stuff. Tech, a heavy-hitting club, brings the OVC player of the year: Kevin Strohschein (.406, 18 homers, 65 RBIs). Missouri State shortstop Jeremy Eierman is a highly regarded draft prospect. The SEC champion Rebels, 46-15 and a top 10 team most of the season, roll out an impressive crop of stars: Ryan Rolison, Ryan Olenek, Nick Fortes, Parker Caracci and those other guys in the bullpen. Yet the deciding factor for the Rebels might just be the crowds at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field. “It’s going to be a rowdy, rowdy, rowdy group,” SLU coach Darin Hendrickson, who has been to Oxford before, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. P.S. Southern Miss, nationally ranked and a double champion in C-USA, got kind of a tough draw from the NCAA, being sent to the Fayetteville Regional at Baum Stadium, where the national 5-seed Arkansas Razorbacks are 30-3. The Hogs are 9-15 elsewhere. Baum Stadium is a homer-friendly park, and USM can play that game. Led by Matt Wallner, the Golden Eagles rank 15th nationally in homers. Of course, first-round foe Dallas Baptist ranks ninth and Arkansas third. Watch for bombs at the Baum. … There is an interesting subplot to watch in Mississippi State’s regional opener in Tallahassee, Fla.: Bulldogs ace Konnor Pilkington and Oklahoma’s Jake Irvin, the likely starters, were roomies last summer when they played for Team USA. “That’ll be a fun matchup for sure,” Irvin told newsok.com. OU outfielder Steele Walker, a top pro prospect, was also on that squad. Florida State, the host and the national 7-seed, will be a tough out at Howser Stadium. But MSU, the 2-seed in the regional, has played well the role of giant killer this season, going 9-1 against top 5 seeds Florida, Arkansas and Ole Miss.
It kinda figures that closers will play a significant role in this weekend’s Mississippi State-Ole Miss series in Oxford. The Rebels (16-9, 3-3 SEC) have been offensively challenged (.246) all season, but they’ll be up against a State staff that has the second-worst ERA in the SEC. The Bulldogs (16-10, 3-3), led by the mashing of Brent Rooker, are a .300-hitting team, but they’ll be up against a UM staff that ranks second in the league in ERA. All this points to close games and late-inning drama, which is what everybody – well, practically everybody – would like to see at Oxford-University Stadium. As a bonus, both teams are well-armed at the back of the bullpen. Ole Miss’ primary closer is Dallas Woolfolk, a sophomore right-hander out of DeSoto Central High. He has six saves, a 1-1 record and has yielded just two runs in 18 innings. Will Stokes, a junior right-hander out of West Lauderdale, also gets some save opps – as he did last year behind Wyatt Short. Stokes has four saves, a 1-0 mark and a 3.29 ERA in 13 2/3 innings. For State, Spencer Price, a Meridian Community College transfer from Olive Branch, has taken on the closer job. The big right-hander has six saves, a 2-1 record and a 1.93 ERA. Though neither has a save, Jacob Barton (2.00) and Riley Self (2.45) also have been effective out of the Bulldogs’ pen. … The first two games of the series will be televised: ESPNU has the Thursday game at 7 p.m. and SEC Network the Friday game at 6. P.S. The new NJCAA Division II poll has four Mississippi schools in the top 20. Ironically, Pearl River Community College, the only team with a spotless MACJC record, isn’t among them. PRCC moved to 6-0 (15-5 overall) with a doubleheader sweep at Gulf Coast on Tuesday. Jones County, which lost for the first time last week, is still No. 1. The Bobcats are 25-1 and 7-1 in the league after sweeping No. 6 East Central (20-6, 6-2) in Tuesday’s marquee showdown. Itawamba (18-4, 5-1), which hosts PRCC on Saturday, is ranked ninth, and Gulf Coast (15-9, 4-4), just swept by The River on Tuesday, is No. 20.
Don’t overlook Utah in the Oxford Regional. Picked by at least one national publication to finish last in the Pac-12, the Utes won the league championship. They had to win the last two games of the regular season to earn that title and keep playing in June. They did, beating Washington by scores of 12-8 and 21-7. So forget that 25-27 overall record. This team went 19-11 in the Pac-12, a very competitive league. And this team has a legitimate ace, Jayson Rose, who’ll face Ole Miss and counterpart Brady Bramlett on Friday at Oxford-University Stadium. “I’ll take Jayson Rose over anybody right now,” Utah coach Bill Kinneberg told the Salt Lake Tribune. “I feel pretty good about that matchup.” Rose, a 5-foot-11 right-hander, went 8-5 with a 2.62 ERA and a school-record 102 strikeouts in 103 innings. In Pac-12 competition, he was 6-3, 2.44 with wins over Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, Cal, Oregon and UCLA. Against Ole Miss (43-17), Rose may face as strong an array of hitters – Henri Lartigue, Tate Blackman, J.B. Woodman, et al. – as he’s seen all season. That could be a challenge. But the Utes seem to like it that way.
0.84 — ERA (to go with six saves) for Ryan Kelly, the Mississippi Braves closer who was named the team’s pitcher of the month for April.
1 – Hit (in 1 at-bat) by Adam Frazier, the Mississippi State alumnus just back from a spring training injury and playing for Altoona (Pittsburgh) in the Eastern League.
1.08 – ERA (through three starts) for Matt Maloney, the ex-Ole Miss star now with Sugarland in the independent Atlantic League.
3 – Triples by D.J. Davis, the Stone County High alum now playing for Lansing (Toronto) in the Midwest League.
3 – Home runs by Brandon Jones, the former Mississippi Braves standout now with York in the Atlantic League.
6 – Ranking for unbeaten Oxford High in Baseball America’s latest prep Top 25. (Northwest Rankin is 13th.)
7 – Stolen bases by Auston Bousfield, the Ole Miss product now with Lake Elsinore (San Diego) in the California League.
9 – Hits (all singles, in 41 at-bats) for Fred Lewis, the Mississippi Gulf Coast CC alum playing for Southern Maryland in the Atlantic League.
11 – Stolen bases by Corey Wimberly, the ex-Alcorn State star now playing for Yucatan in the Mexican League.
11 – Saves by Roy Corcoran, the former Gulf Coast CC standout with Aguascalientes in the Mexican League.
16 – Strikeouts (in 12 1/3 innings) by Jacob Lindgren, the ex-State standout now pitching for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees) in the International League.
18 – RBIs for JaCoby Jones, the Richton High product now with Bradenton (Pittsburgh) in the Florida State League.
7,920 – Average announced attendance (second in the nation) this year at Oxford-University Stadium, where Ole Miss hosts Mississippi State in a three-game SEC series that starts tonight.