Ole Miss fans, we are almost 48 hours away from the super regional round of the NCAA Baseball Tournament.
If you’re anything like me, you have been scouring the internet for videos, statistics and information on the Arizona Wildcats baseball program to help ease or elevate the anxiety of this week of waiting.
We reached out to Brian J Pedersen from Arizona Desert Swarm at SBNation to get his take on this super regional match-up between Ole Miss and his beloved Arizona Wildcats.
Here’s BJP’s answers to our questions on the weekend ahead, grab some oven mitts for some of these scalding hot takes.
RCR: Clearly, this has been a great season for Arizona, Pac-12 Champions, top 5 national seed — how high is the confidence level for the fanbase headed into this super regional?
I believe the fans are quite confident that this is another Omaha team, and as restrictions have lifted in terms of stadium capacity the numbers show it. While it’s no Ole Miss-level crowd, the 5,454 for last Friday’s game was the most ever for a postseason game at Hi Corbett.
There’s also the Omaha/US Swimming connection. Since 2012, every time the US Olympic swim trials have been held in Omaha the Wildcats end up there around the same time. Those trials begin Sunday and run through June 20.
RCR: Who do you expect to take the mound Friday, Saturday and Sunday? Do you think it matters who takes the mound for Ole Miss for who ‘Zona puts up?
Though Jay Johnson won’t announce any starters ahead of time, the expectation is that it will go RHP Chase Silseth, LHP Garrett Irvin and RHP Chandler Murphy. Arizona has kept the first two slots consistent all season, with Sunday often being a bullpen game, but Murphy was a starter at the beginning of the season and has returned to that role of late after being a long reliever in the middle. Irvin has been the best of late, throwing two complete games (including a shutout in the regionals) in his last four starts.
The starting pitchers will definitely play a key role for both teams, but I expect each manager to arrange their batting order accordingly. Arizona has a fair number of lefty hitters, but has ways of avoiding having more than two in a row, but it also has several with so-called reverse splits that hit lefties well.
Arizona tries to work counts early to both feel out the opposing pitcher and get their pitch count early, so I ultimately think each game will come down to the bullpen usage.
RCR: It looks like there are a couple power hitters for the Wildcats, but the team also has a spectacular batting average overall. How would you characterize the offensive strategy of Arizona? Any under the radar players Rebel fans should know about?
There are no weak spots in Arizona’s lineup. A few weeks ago that would have been 3B Tony Bullard, but he’s suddenly become one of the team’s best hitters with 13 hits, 4 homers and 10 RBI in the last 6 games. Hi Corbett is such a large field that, while Arizona has several guys who can go yard, the Wildcats are more about getting the merry go round going and stringing together hits by spraying the ball all over the field. The Nos. 6-9 spots in the batting order did the most damage in the regionals, while freshman stars Jacob Berry and Daniel Susac have been noticeably quiet of late but should be due to explode.
RCR: Which player or players has the clutch gene who have come through time and again for Arizona this year?
Honestly, all of them. Arizona is very good at 2-out hitting, with a .334 average (overall the Wildcats hit .327). As noted before, Berry and Susac have been the studs all year despite slumping of late, but the former is a Collegiate Baseball All-American and the latter was Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
RCR: For Rebel fans planning on being in Tucson, what would be your advice to get the most out of the experience (i.e. avoiding heat, getting a beer, eating great, not sitting in traffic or getting lost)?
First and foremost, hydrate. It’s going to be 100-plus throughout the series, and while there’s no humidity to make it sticky you’ll get dried out quickly. Look for shade whenever possible and make sure the liquids stay flowing (preferably non-alcoholic, but who are we kidding?). Since the games are all at night, if you’re a fan of the outdoors there’s plenty of golf as well as hiking, not to mention an endless supply of Mexican restaurants. I highly recommend getting a Sonoran Hot Dog anywhere you can find one, you’ll thank me later.