What?: 2nd Round of the 5A Playoffs - Best of 3
Where?: Edwin Moak Field (Game 1 & - if necessary - Game 3) and Center Hill High School (Game 2)
When?: Game 1: Thursday, April 28th @ 7:00, Game 2: Saturday, April 30th @ 2:00, Game 3: Monday, May 2nd @ 7:00 (if necessary)
How can you keep up?: Bullseye 95.5 FM Radio, Bullseye955.com, @OxChargerSports Twitter Account, Baseball iScore Gamecast at this -> LINK <- (click on respective Oxford/Center Hill Game with correct corresponding date and time of game to watch)
Probable Starting Rotation: Oxford - Sr. RHP Jason Barber (6-2, 1.26), Sr. RHP Houston Roth (7-0, 0.62), Jr. RHP Carson Stinnett (3-3, 1.86). Center Hill* - Jr. RHP Frankie Hefflinger (4-2, 0.84), Sr. RHP Drew Hurdle (4-0, 1.40), Jr. RHP Austin Pace (5-1, 1.40),
* - Note: Four decisions are missing on Center Hill's stat page (3 wins and a loss), so these stats could be inaccurate.
The Lowdown: Oxford is back into the playoffs en route to defending its 5A State Title from last year. Both teams could use a boost by winning this series. Center Hill entered the playoffs losing five of their last six. Oxford comes in after losing back-to-back 2-1 decisions at home and scoring four total runs in their last three games.
Last year it didn't seem that Oxford could be beaten when these two teams matched up in the second round. This year, a blueprint is there. Five of Oxford's seven losses this season happened when Oxford scored three or fewer runs, and six of the seven have been by just a one-run margin.
Oxford held Center Hill to just a single run in their two games in the playoffs last year, on a solo-homer at Center Hill that proved to not be such the momentum shifter. The Chargers and the Mustangs played their first scrimmage at Edwin Moak Field to start the year. Center Hill saw Oxford's backup pitchers in that 4-inning game while the Chargers saw their ace. The mistake here is Oxford saw Center Hill's best pitcher while the last time the Mustangs saw Jason Barber and Houston Roth in a game was last postseason. While it is true they may have saw the Charger relief pitchers, the Mustangs must get through the frontline to get to them, something they didn't accomplish last time.
Something that may keep the games closer? The way Oxford has lost games this season. Oxford has produced 11% more fly ball outs than last year and also have struckout 18% more often while grounding out 16.5% less often than in 2015. In addition Oxford has put fly balls or pop ups into play 23% more often than last year. Oxford has also put out 10% fewer grounders and 11% fewer line-drives. A fly-ball out is easier to record than a groundball out, so Oxford has been getting out more easily because fly balls doesn't put as much pressure on the defense as grounders do. As a result, Oxford has produced 1-1/2 fewer runs per game than last year.
Now, a part of that is the tougher schedule Oxford has put together. Oxford did go to the Perfect Game Showcase in March and face four extremely tough teams and all of which had multiple players that are D1-signees or commits. Oxford also did go to the Mid-Mississippi Classic and faced teams such as region champions Warren Central and Brandon but lost to Hillcrest. A big difference from last year to this year would be the South Panola game. Oxford run-ruled the Tigers, but lost - at home - this year. Oxford also picked apart the Houston Hilltoppers last year, but this year it was two close games that both ended in a walk-off.
Oxford has faced the 4A favorite in Houston, Briarcrest Christian where Oxford faced a low-90s pitcher signed to Vanderbilt, one of the 3A favorites in Mooreville, 6A region champions in Southaven, Warren Central, Brandon, and Madison Central, and Top 25 Arkansas team in Cabot.
Center Hill's out-of-region schedule had some decent opponents (New Hope being one, Dyer Co. (TN) being another - a Top 20 team in Tennessee where they won) but most of the competition has the teams barely ranked in their state's Top 100 (according to Maxpreps). While both teams played Lafayette twice, Oxford played them facing their best pitchers while Center Hill saw backups having played them on the weekend.
While the pitching is good on both sides, Oxford is proven to be better and both teams know it. The problem will be how they field behind them. Center Hill's fielding percentage is .887 (according to Maxpreps) while that is Oxford's strong suit at .959. But again, if Oxford doesn't at least put pressure on the defense, the Chargers will allow Center Hill to hang around, and against any team that is always dangerous.
For Oxford to Win This Series, They Must: Force the Defense into Pressure - An .887 fielding percentage sucks even for the high school ranks. Preferably you would want that percentage to be at .925 or better. Don't always swing for the fence.
Keep the High Standard of Pitching - Houston Roth leads the state in strikeout ratio (exactly two strikeouts per inning) while he and Jason Barber are #2 & #3 in the state in strikeouts. This keeps the pressure off the defense.
For Center Hill to Win This Series, They Must: Take Advantage of Oxford's Aggressiveness - Knowing how to pitch to the Oxford hitters will be key. If Oxford hits into nine or more fly-ball outs, they are 1-2. Their one win against West Point was the only win they didn't run rule the Green Wave hitting 14 fly outs.
Find a Way to Score - regardless if they slow down the Oxford offense, it does them no good if they can't score. The Mustangs must manufacture runs if they want to stand a chance in this series.
Other Notes: Oxford swept Center Hill last year 2-0 and 7-1. Grae Kessinger transferred from Center Hill during the 2014 summer. Oxford has never lost a series in this round since the current playoff format has been established.