OXFORD – The Ole Miss Rebels missed the national seed they wanted but also missed – for now – facing the top pitcher they didn’t want.
Selected as a regional host team on Sunday, the question for the Rebels through the NCAA tournament selection show on Monday was not if they’d get in but who would complete the field for the Oxford Regional.
Turns out the other three teams will be No. 4 seed Monmouth – which will face No. 1 seed Ole Miss Friday at 7 p.m. – No. 3 seed Western Kentucky and No. 2 seed Missouri.
Ole Miss and Missouri split two games last season in the Coral Gables, Fla., Regional hosted by Miami. Western Kentucky played in the 2004 Oxford Regional, a 4 seed that dropped the Rebels into the loser’s bracket with a 1-0 win.
Much of the field was announced before the screen showed San Diego State and right-hander Stephen Strasburg, projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick in this season’s major league baseball draft, staying close to home in the Irvine, Calif., Regional.
As potential opponents flashed by headed to other regionals, there was good-natured ribbing among Ole Miss hitters as they wanted to see where Strasburg would land.
“Nobody wants to see a guy like that in the first round,” outfielder Jordan Henry said. “Guys were kind of playing with that, but at the same time you’re glad you don’t have to face him first.”
Ole Miss could see Strasburg in a super regional matchup, but if that plays out, the super regional would be in Oxford.
The Rebels (40-17) are paired with No. 6 national seed UC-Irvine for the super regional round. Irvine (43-13) would have to be eliminated for Ole Miss to host a super regional. The Anteaters’ regional includes Virginia as a 2 seed, San Diego State as the 3 and defending national champion Fresno State as the 4.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco thought his team had a chance at earning one of the eight national seeds, which would have allowed the Rebels to play at home until the College World Series, should they advance that far for the first time since 1972. The national seeds in order are Texas, Cal-State Fullerton, LSU, North Carolina, Arizona State, UC-Irvine, Oklahoma and Florida, which eliminated the Rebels in the second round of the SEC tournament.
“I thought we were 50-50 at best,” Bianco said. “If we had played better in the SEC tournament and won a couple of games, regardless of if we’d played Florida or not, it would have put us in better position.”
Instead the focus turns to the Oxford Regional in general, in particular Monmouth, a private school in West Long Branch, N.J., with 4,744 students. The Hawks (32-23) won the Northeast Conference tournament championship over the weekend to claim the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Monmouth is led at the plate by Chris Callozo, who’s hitting .385 on the year with 46 RBIs.
“New Jersey? Wow. Maybe they won’t be used to the heat coming from way up there,” pitcher Phillip Irwin said. “I like our bracket. It could give us a chance to host a super regional. And maybe Strasburg won’t sneak through his.”
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal