Breaking down Illinois, the rest of the Oxford Regional Field
Monte Lee firmly believes his Clemson baseball team can compete with anybody in the country. That is why, despite being the No. 3 seed, he thinks the Tigers have as good of a chance as anyone in this weekend’s Oxford (Miss.) Regional.
“If we play good baseball, we can compete with anybody,” Clemson’s head coach said Monday after learning of his team’s 11th straight bid into the NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers (34-24) will play Illinois, who is coming out of the Big Ten Conference as the No. 2 seed, Friday at 4 p.m., in Game 1 of the Oxford Regional. The Illini posted a 36-19 overall mark this year, including a 15-9 record in the Big Ten. They went 0-2 in the Big Ten Tournament in Omaha, Nebraska last week, losing to Maryland and Michigan.
Clemson, who went 15-15 in the ACC and 1-1 in the ACC Baseball Championships, have had its good and bad moments this year. The bad moments, the Tigers went 1-3 against the Big South, lost two of three games against a bad Notre Dame team at home and went 1-2 against rival South Carolina, who had its worst season in 23 years.
But they went 3-1 against No. 7 national seed Louisville and 3-0 against No. 14 national seed North Carolina. Clemson had eight wins against top 50 RPI teams and went 7-5 against RPI top 12 teams.
“We can play with anybody and when we put together quality pitching, defense and good situational hitting, we can play with anybody in the country,” Lee said. “But we are going to need to do that this weekend if we want to advance.”
Illinois’ top three pitchers are lefty Andy Fisher, righty Ty Weber and right-hand thrower Cyrillo Watson. The three went 16-5 combined in 41 starts.
Fisher is the ace of the staff. The redshirt senior went 7-1 in 15 starts. He has an ERA of 2.57 with 89 strikeouts and 35 walks. Opponents are hitting .206 on the lefty. He has pitched in 94 2/3 innings and has allowed just four home runs.
Weber has played in 15 games but started 13. He has a 4-2 record with a 4-2 ERA. He has 45 strikeouts to 31 walks. Opponents are hitting just .212 on the 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior.
Watson, also a junior, is 5-2 with an ERA of 3.65 in 13 starts. He has 49 strikeouts to 39 walks. Opponents are batting .253 against him.
At the plate, outfielder Zac Taylor leads the team with 10 home runs and 28 RBIs. He is also second on the team with a .331 average and an on-base percentage of .411. Taylor also leads Illinois with 20 steals in 23 attempts.
Grant Van Scoy leads the Illini with a .347 batting average and .440 OBP. He has 22 RBIs.
As for Clemson’s possible other two opponents. Jacksonville State has won 12 games in a row and 16 of its last 17 heading into the regional. The Gamecocks ran through the OVC Tournament. They averaged 8.0 runs per game. They’re averaging 8.5 runs per game during their 12-game winning streak.
Like Clemson, Ole Miss is looking to win a regional for the first time in a long time. The Tigers have not won a regional since 2010, when it won at Auburn, which is also the last time they played in Omaha at the College World Series.
The Rebels (37-25) have not won a regional since 2014, also the last time they advanced to Omaha. They lost to Tennessee Tech in the Oxford Regional last year.
Ole Miss made a deep run in the SEC Tournament to put itself in position to host this weekend. It beat national seeds Georgia and Arkansas and came close to beating Vanderbilt in the SEC Championship Game on Sunday, the No. 2 overall seed.
“This is a big stage and we are really looking forward to the opportunity,” Clemson shortstop Logan Davidson said. “That is what we are happy about it. We worked hard to get here. We are just going to take advantage of it.”