The Rebels top-ranked recruiting class stumbled through the 2017 season, missing the NCAA tournament, but they evolved and improved, mentally and physically, transforming into the elite team that they were expected to be.
Ole Miss (46-15) has enjoyed, arguably, the best season in program history in 2018. The Rebels won the second most games in the nation en route to winning the SEC West and storming their way to an SEC tournament title in Hoover, where they won four elimination games in four days after an uncharacteristic performance landed them in the losers bracket.
They were rewarded with the No. 4 national seed in the NCAA tournament, the highest seed in school history, which means Ole Miss will be hosting a Regional and, if they win their Regional, a Super Regional.
A top-four national seed means an easier regional, whatever that saying means, right? Wrong, Ole Miss will be challenged in the Oxford Regional.
The Oxford Regional, hosted by the Rebels, features two-seed Tennessee Tech (48-9), three-seed Missouri State (39-15) and four-seed Saint Louis (38-18). Ole Miss will play the four-seed Billikens on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. EST.
Saint Louis isn’t just some run-of-the-mill automatic-bid four seed; they can present a legitimate threat to the Rebels in the form of Friday-night ace Miller Hogan and sluggers Alex King and Parker Sniatynski.
Hogan (10-3) has a 2.19 ERA and a WHIP of 0.8317 in 102.2 innings, spanning 15 starts. He has struck out 129 batters and only walked 12, a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 10.75 strikeouts per walk. Additionally, Hogan averages 11.36 strikeouts per nine innings.
King (14 home runs, 51 RBI) has an OPS of .957 for the season, while Sniatynski (9 home runs, 49 RBI) boasts an OPS of .986.
The Billikens have three wins against top-50 teams in the RPI in seven games. Saint Louis lost to Purdue at the Alamo Irish Classic (in San Antonio) back in February, before later sweeping the Boilermakers when they hosted Purdue for a three-game series in mid-March. In their only other chance, they were swept at home by Jacksonville (18 RPI), though Miller Hogan left the game after seven innings of one-run ball.
But the Billikens aren’t the only threat, nor are they the most-grave theat, that lies in the 2/3 game. Two-seed Tennessee Tech will take on three-seed Missouri State at 3:00 p.m. EST on Friday.
The Golden Eagles (48-9) have the most wins in the nation thanks to one of college baseball’s best offenses.
Tennessee Tech has the best On-base percentage (.436) and slugging percentage (.602), which combine to form the nation’s best OPS at (1.038). The Golden Eagles have the highest home-run rate — they average 2.25 home runs per game and have the nation’s most home runs (128); their next closer competitor, Clemson, has 94. Finally, they average a ridiculous 10.5 runs per game, scoring 596 in 57 games.
Tennessee Tech has seven with 10 home runs or more, four of whom have 15 or more home runs and 65 (or more) RBI.
Kevin Strohschein leads the Golden Eagles in home runs (18), doubles (17) and slugging (.713). He also has 65 RBI and an OPS of 1.176.
Chase Chambers leads the team in RBI (76), in addition to 15 home runs, 11 doubles and an OPS of 1.150.
Trevor Putzig and David Garza have 16 home runs a piece and combine for 135 RBI. Putzig (16 home runs, 11 doubles and 67 RBI) has an OPS of 1.038, while Garza (16 home runs, 15 doubles and 68 RBI) has an OPS of .969.
The quarter of Strohschein, Chambers, Putzig and Garza has combined to drive in 276 runs.
But the Eagles pitching often leaves a lot to be desired with a team ERA of 4.88 and team WHIP of 1.4945.
Tennessee Tech hasn’t played a team near the caliber of Ole Miss all season, however. The Golden Eagles have just two wins against top-50 RPI teams – they took one of three from Troy and a midweek game from Vanderbilt. Their only other notable power-five wins are against RPI number 51, West Virginia, and RPI number 76, Tennessee.
Nevertheless, they won 48 games and can knock the cover off of a baseball.
The final threat is the Missouri State Bears, who just last year upset a regional host from the SEC, the Arkansas Razorbacks.
2015, they took Arkansas to the limit in a Super Regional. The Bears are a mid-major who routinely takes a few jabs at powerhouse schools, sometimes landing the knockout blow.
Missouri State is a less-than-terrifying 4-8 against the RPI Top-50. They have three wins against Dallas Baptist (RPI 36) and one early non-conference win at East Carolina (RPI 12) in the LeClair Classic. Additionally, the Bears haven’t faired well against Power-Five opponents – they are 0-2 against Oklahoma State, 1-1 against Kansas, 1-0 against Iowa, 0-2 against Missouri, 0-1 against Arkansas and 0-2 against Oregon State, combining to go 2-8.
But the Bears have Jeremy Eierman, Drew Millas and Matt Brown at the plate. Eierman, one of the best middle infielders in college baseball, has 10 home runs and 49 RBI with an .OPS of .916; he’s also a threat on the bases with 20 stolen bases in 23 attempts. Millas (7 home runs, 57 RBI) has racked up an OPS of .941. Brown (14 home runs and 40 RBI) may be the most dangerous of them all with an OPS just under 1 (.999).