Mississippi rides SEC tourney win into Oxford Regional
1. Mississippi (40-20) -- 12th appearance, automatic, won SEC tournament
2. Tulane (41-19) -- 18th appearance, at-large, Conference USA
3. South Alabama (38-19) -- 24th appearance, at-large, Sun Belt
4. Bethune-Cookman (30-25) -- Seventh appearance, won Mid-Eastern regular season and tournament
Oxford Regional schedule
At Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field
Friday, June 2
Game 1 -- South Alabama 7, Tulane 1
Game 2 -- Mississippi 3, Bethune-Cookman 2
Saturday, June 3
Game 3 -- Tulane 12, Bethune-Cookman 7
Game 4 -- Mississippi 9, South Alabama 7
Sunday, June 4
Game 5 -- Tulane 18, South Alabama 11
Game 6 -- Mississippi 12, Tulane 4
Mississippi (42-20) advances to the super regional round.
Oxford Regional notes
Early in coach Mike Bianco's career, Mississippi gained a reputation as a team that faded as the season progressed. The last two seasons, however, the Rebels have surged as the schedule was ending. Last year's club advanced to the finals of the SEC tournament, and this club won it. And Mississippi is the only SEC team to post a winning record each of the past four years, topping the league with 70 wins in that span. This club qualifies as his best coaching job yet, as he's pieced together a pitching staff full of freshmen and older players with little experience. Nine different players started games, and current staff ace Will Kline (4-2, 3.13) has made four starts all year. Ole Miss doesn't make errors behind its staff and helps it out with a punishing offense that ranked second to Kentucky in runs scored among SEC teams. Justin Henry, Chris Coghlan, Zack Cozart and Alex Presley, the first four hitters in the order, all batted at least .347 and stole between 14 and 23 bases.
Coach Rick Jones and his players didn't want surviving Hurricane Katrina to become the story line of Tulane's season, so it closed the season with a 19-3 stretch to finish third in C-USA. The Green Wave is back in Oxford, where it won the regional as a No. 3 seed two years ago -- a scenario that could again unfold given a pitching staff that features four solid starters led by sophomore right-hander Sean Morgan (8-5, 3.32, 121 strikeouts). Tulane's offense centers around junior first baseman Mark Hamilton, the C-USA player of the year after ringing up 18 homers and 64 RBI at spacious Zephyr Field. Freshman outfielder Warren McFadden led the team with 22 doubles and a .381 average.
Tulane won a three-game series against South Alabama in March, but senior lefty P.J. Walters allowed two earned runs and recorded seven strikeouts in a complete-game effort that marked USA's only win. He'll bring his 10-3 record, 3.34 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 143 innings to the mound in the opener. No other Jaguars arm is quite as imposing, but the offense is. It ranked among the top 20 nationally in runs, batting, doubles and slugging thanks to senior third baseman David Freese (.415-11-70 with 21 doubles as the SBC player of the year) and freshman second baseman David Doss (.407, 19 doubles).
Bethune-Cookman didn't lose a MEAC game all year, following a 15-0 regular season with a perfect run through the conference tournament to reach the NCAA tournament for the seventh time in eight years. Leading the conference in ERA (4.22), fielding (.957) and scoring (6.0) help make those kinds of years possible, and that type of solid all-around play gives the Panthers a chance to pull an upset. BCC beat tournament teams Jacksonville, Oral Roberts and Stetson during the regular season.
Will Kimmey covers college baseball for Baseball America.
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