JACKSON — Missouri coach Tim Jamieson is going to gamble at the Oxford Regional. Mississippi coach Mike Bianco is not.
Jamieson announced Thursday that he will not take the conventional approach and start ace Kyle Gibson in the second-seeded Tigers’ first-round game Friday against No. 3 Western Kentucky.
Many coaches send their ace to the mound on the first day of a regional to help ensure their teams remain in the winners’ bracket. Jamieson, though, anticipates a Saturday matchup with top seed Ole Miss.
“For us to win the regional, (Gibson) is going to have to beat the home team,” Jamieson said. “He’s the one that’s going to handle that the best. It may not happen, we may not get to that point. But we’re not here to win on Friday, we’re here to win a regional.”
Missouri (34-25) will instead send Nick Tepesch to the mound against Western Kentucky (39-18), a team with a .331 batting average and 80 home runs this season.
Gibson is 10-3 this season and considered a top pro prospect. He struck out 123 batters and would seem to be an ideal match against the Hilltoppers’ potent offense. But Jamieson has confidence in Tepesch, a sophomore who beat national seed Oklahoma in the Big 12 semifinals.
Western Kentucky coach Chris Finwood believes any pitcher Missouri sends to the mound will be a good one and said he chooses instead to focus on his own team.
“We just have to go out there and play a good brand of baseball and get some timely hits against whoever we are facing,” Finwood said. “Obviously, they have an All-American and if they want to save him, they can save him.”
While Jamieson was shuffling his pieces, Bianco decided to take one of his off the board. He kept ace Scott Bittle off the 25-man roster this weekend because of a shoulder injury. While Bittle has been tossing the ball with no pain, Bianco believes he’s not ready to pitch from the mound. Bittle, who’s been both a starter and closer this season, has been unavailable to the team since May 3, a stretch of nine games.
“His rehab this week has been more promising and we hope if we make it to a super regional he will be available,” Bianco said.
The top-seeded Rebels (40-17) will send Drew Pomeranz (6-4) to the mound against Monmouth (32-23). He’ll face a challenge from the Northeast Conference champions, who scored 35 runs in three games to clinch the league title.
Ole Miss’ starters haven’t been that impressive since Bittle’s injury and the Southeastern Conference co-champions are just 5-4 in that stretch. That includes two quick losses in the league tournament that left the Rebels disappointed and without a coveted national seed.
Bianco believes the team’s ready for the regional, though.
“We’ve had a good week of practice and a lot of energy,” Bianco said. “The kids have realized they have to put that behind them. If you play well this weekend, many folks will forget about the SEC tournament.”
Chris Talbott/The Associated Press