What?: 5A State Championship Series - Best of 3
Where?: Trustmark Park in Pearl, MS (All 3 games)
When?: Game 1: Tuesday, May 19th @ 4:00, Game 2: Thursday, May 21st @ 7:00, Game 3: Saturday, May 23rd / TBA (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/George County Game with correct corresponding date and time of game to watch)
Probable Starting Rotation: Oxford - Jr. RHP Houston Roth (8-1, 1.56), Jr. RHP Jason Barber (11-0, 0.00), Jr. RHP Grae Kessinger (3-0, 1.98), George County - Jr. LHP Walker Robbins (8-1, 1.21), Sr. LHP Ian Goff (7-2, 1.87), Jr. RHP Kyle Whittington (4-1, 1.47)
The Lowdown: This week, Oxford fans are NOT Rebel fans.
At least not these George County Rebels.
Oxford finally gets out of the North Half alive and have made it to Trustmark Park. It will be the Chargers first time since the games was moved over there in 2006, one year after Oxford won its only state title. It has been well documented throughout the course of this year it was never a goal for Oxford to go undefeated, just to win a 5A Title and if it meant knocking off New Hope along the way, so be it. All Oxford wanted to do entering the playoffs was to get to win number 35. Reaching win number 35 would mean Oxford has won the 5A Title. It didn't matter to them if there was a zero or a four or any number in the loss column.
George County, like Oxford, has been the favorite to come out of the south and get to the Title series. They have the bats (team average is .323) and the pitching (team ERA is 1.31). The Rebels have two left-handed pitchers that are their 1-2 punch.
The problem with the Rebels is that they have only four pitchers they can trust at this point in the year. After their starting three and their closer who has appeared in all but six of their games this year, their next guy has appeared in just four games. George County also has a problem with unearned runs. Of the 71 runs allowed by the Rebels this season, 36 are unearned (more than half), and that is in 6 fewer games than Oxford. That has helped in extending their pitching staff due to having to throw more pitches after their errors.
Although we don't really know what the atmosphere was like in the south for George County winning the South Half, it is safe to say after probably around 3,000 total fans who attended the three games at Oxford and New Hope that Oxford has felt the experience of what a State Championship series is like without actually being there this season. With New Hope having been there the last two years and Oxford knocking them off in front of four-digit number of fans, no matter how bad they hate each other, that should say something about this Oxford team. New Hope has been-there-done-that going into it. It wasn't that they weren't comfortable with the situation because they were, it was the simple fact Oxford was as well and simply got beat in one of the best series that maybe anyone will ever get to see in high school. George County has not been to the Championship series in the 21st century and some may argue should've been there last year (West Jones was the 5A South Representative last year).
Oxford is a team that knows how to respond. Anytime they have the chance to come back after being down in the game, they have done so. The Chargers could've folded after that walk-off home run in Game 2 this past Thursday. Oxford could've folded after getting behind 2-0 in the first inning of Game 3. Oxford could've folded after coughing up a run on a error in Game 1. They didn't. That is the type of team that wins championships. It is the team that responds to adversity - and there was some in all three games.
The games that defined this team? You could go back to the trio of games that were never meant to happen in the first place: Cabot, Sallisaw, and Checotah in the Arkansas-Oklahoma trip. Oxford was in a back-and-forth match against Cabot before getting to their pitching staff in extra innings. Oxford trailed 4-0 after the first inning - the biggest deficit of the year for the Chargers - against Sallisaw in almost the identical way Game 3 against New Hope was. Then like Oxford has been all year, imposed their will against Checotah where they couldn't take the blows Oxford gave them.
Oxford just wants to win two of the next three. If that means winning the first two, winning Games 1 and 3, or Games 2 and 3, they just want the ring, the Gold Glove trophy, and being named Champions in one of the big three sports which hasn't happened since Baseball won it in 2005 to no disrespect to Girls Basketball.
If Baseball wins it all, Football in seven months will need to do the same and maybe instill some confidence in them this upcoming year that it can be done when everything is on the line.
Keep in mind that if due to the rain from the past 4-5 days saturates the field enough to push the games back, this will help Oxford and put Houston Roth on the MLB-normal 5 days rest and Jason Barber may get another day's rest after pitching twice last series. George County's graduation is on Friday, so if Game 2 gets pushed back from Thursday, it likely may go to Saturday - a week from when Barber last pitched.
For Oxford to Win the Championship, They Must: Trust Their Pitching - Roth and Barber has proven themselves to be the toughest 1-2 punch in the state. It took a scoreless effort from New Hope's Josh Stillman to make 1 run against Roth be enough. Stillman did that twice in the year had the first time only go seven innings, except his team also didn't score. That won't happen every single time with Oxford's bats.
Trust Their Bats - Oxford is a good enough offense to put together innings and put crooked numbers on the scoreboard. Oxford has seen a good number of left-handed pitchers this year and has a power-hitter who is left-handed, which is normally a better matchup. Jack McClure and Sage Mullins are the two left-handed bats in the lineup. Preston Perkins could be used as a pinch-hitter being left-handed as well.
Play with Confidence - Oxford has handled being ranked in the top 10 in the nation, top team in the state, played infront of monster crowds, handled being the favorite to win it all year long. This team has all the confidence in the world they can finish it off.
For George County to Win the Championship, They Must: Not Make Errors - While the pitching for the Rebels is good, it has been clear in their stats that the defense is not as good behind them. Oxford earned every run against New Hope (all 13 were earned), so George County can't give Oxford anything.
Make the Games Pitcher Duels - In truth, that's the only way the Rebels can win. Scoring on the Chargers hasn't been easy. Oxford has yet to allow 6 or more runs in any game this year. George County's pitching must do the same to have a chance - and they have the best chance among all the teams Oxford has faced - only twice has the Rebels given up more than 5 runs in a game this season.
String Hits Together - Their bats are good enough to get a run on three singles in an inning. Oxford's pitching though has done a good enough job to prevent that from happening. This offense can challenge putting up a run every other inning without needing to sacrifice.
Game 2 - 76*F, Cloudy (20% chance of rain), winds from the N at 5-10 MPH (in from LF).
Game 3 (if necessary) - (because time will not be known until the results from Game 1 and 2 are made, it will be that day's forecast): Mostly Sunny, Hi near 90*F (Heat Index 95-100*F) (less than 20% chance of rain), winds from the SE at 5-10 MPH (crosswind from RF to LF)