Batting 1st: Grae Kessinger (Shortstop / Pitcher) - One of Oxford's transfers, and a familiar name. He is the cousin of teammate Chase and OHS-alum Anna Kathryn Kessinger I've mentioned a few times. He was the ace of Center Hill's staff last year. He also holds a pitching win over the Chargers and is committed to Ole Miss. Although he was the top-dog pitcher on Center Hill's staff, he will be regulated to being pitcher #1C. However, he does not wish to start on the mound but rather come in relief as a closer, filling a role Hunter Roth never seemed to find when he was called upon.
Batting 2nd: Matthew Guyton (Center Field / 2nd Base) - Guyton was hampered with a leg injury he suffered against Tupelo in a 3-man collision with Michael Bianco and Pittman Phillips last year and it has taken up until Christmas to really get back going again. With Drew Bianco suffering a hip injury in practice and out for a little while, he might be called upon to play second base until Bianco is able to return. He's had a good bat until his injury and will surely be given the chance to bat again. If he doesn't go back to the infield, his new traditional position appears to be Center Field thanks to his speed.
Batting 3rd: Jack McClure (Catcher / Pitcher) - Oxford's biggest part of their batting lineup they return this year. A Northwest CC commit, McClure had one of the best batting averages on the team last year. He led the team in home runs with three, but did not hit one after Spring Break where he hit two against Lake Cormorant. Oxford has a little more power around the lineup this year, thus it should be easier for McClure at the plate. McClure was a common reliever on the mound last year, but as stacked as the staff is this year, he may not be needed as much. Since he wasn't being recruited as a pitcher anyways, the Chargers hope he isn't called upon. It's not that often a pitching staff GAINS a net one pitcher over the offseason.
Batting 4th: Jason Barber (Pitcher / 3rd Base / 2nd Base / 1st Base) - Oxford's flamethrower on the mound, and he's getting caught up from behind in velocity by Houston Roth and Kessinger. His fastball has reached as fast as 93 MPH during the offseason and threw his first perfect game while playing with the Dulin Dodgers. He came close to doing that in high school against New Hope last season where he threw six perfect innings, but one inning was error-infested and resulted in a loss. Barber also had three home runs last year as his bat got hot late. His bat has power, but needs to avoid strikeouts (led the team last year). With Bianco out, he might play second base if need be.
Batting 5th: Ben Bianco (Designated Hitter / Catcher) - His bat is too valuable to leave the lineup, but he almost has nowhere to go in the field. He played some second base last year but wasn't confident there. If McClure ever pitches or needs to give him a break for a game, he will catch. Putting him in the DH spot is risky in game if McClure ever gets hurt - but you can't ever really think about that. Out of all the hits he got last year, he got more extra-base hits (doubles, triples, and home runs) than he did singles. He will be used every game, just not sure he will find the field defensively.
Batting 6th: Drew Phillips (1st Base / Pitcher) - A guy who had a hot start last year and went ice cold down the stretch at the plate. He batted .253 last year (20-for-79) but just .100 down the stretch (2-for-20). Consistency is the key for him this year and if Oxford is going to win a state championship, Phillips will need to do better at the plate come playoff time. After Dalton, Kessinger, Roth, and Barber, Phillips is the #5 pitcher. He led the team in ERA last year (0.54) and pitched the most innings after Roth and Barber. His tendency though is after an error has been made, the matter is compounded by letting them score - he allowed 11 total runs last year, but just 2 earned. He just needs to put mistakes (of others) behind him and just continue to pitch to be successful.
Batting 7th: Houston Roth (Pitcher / Right Field / 2nd Base) - Roth from last year to this year is probably the most improved player besides Chase Kessinger on the team - and that is saying something given the role he had last year. He is one of Oxford's returning aces and was rewarded for his efforts with a scholarship offer to Ole Miss where he has now committed. While it isn't known which day Roth will start on (Tuesday or Friday), we know it will be one of them. Roth's bat gets him by, but he has more oomf this year thanks to his offseason weight-room training in which he has likely done the most, allowing him to be even a more dominant pitcher.
Batting 8th: Sage Mullins (Left Field) - He has appeared to win an outfield job (an area that had to be completely replaced this year) and has enough of a bat to get the first shot. There are other seniors waiting in the wings that want their shot. A left-handed hitter at the plate, he had to wait a while for his turn. Now is his chance to prove it. A few players I had in mind could be in the 8-hole and play the outfield (Ryan Young, Wes Snellgrove among upperclassmen). This spot really could go to anybody, but they must play in the outfield.
Batting 9th: Drew Bianco (2nd Base / Shortstop) - due to an injury, he won't start opening day or likely the first 1/3 of the season. He suffered his injury during batting practice. He's a rare freshmen that should have drawn an opening day start (like Barber was) and will start once his injury heals. He will play 2nd Base whenever Grae Kessinger is not pitching and Shortstop when Kessinger goes to the mound. He showed a real good bat while playing middle school ball and is looking to transfer that to high school ball. He has pitched and was the ace pitcher while playing for OMS, but he has a ways before sniffing the rotation. Although until he returns, someone needs to bat here. As to who, well we shall see tomorrow.
Other players to watch for:
Dalton Markle (Pitcher) - Another transfer who played football earlier this year and was a backup to Ben Bianco at QB. Markle is the only left-handed pitcher in the staff, but will gladly be accepted as he is appearing to be the first LHP to be used consistently on the staff since Hunt Halford played for Oxford. He is the hardest throwing lefty Oxford has had in quite some time which gives Oxford some much needed diversity on the mound than just right-handed pitchers.
Ryan Young (Outfield) - He should be the player to be DH'ed for when certain scenarios happen. If Houston Roth pitches, that may cause him to go to RF. Young has played 3rd base before and if Barber heads to the mound, either Drew Bianco or Young could move there. Right now as Bianco is hurt, Young could very well be a candidate as well as Snellgrove. Young will be moved around in the field dependent on where he is needed.
Carson Stinnett (Pitcher / Shortstop) - Stepped up as a pitcher last year when all of Oxford's main pitchers were used up during Spring Break against Tupelo. Got the tough L with all of his allowed runs were unearned. He might be used less this year, but as a Sophomore behind those in front of him, he will need to step up in two years when everyone in front graduates and leaves. He will need to pitch eventually to gain some experience. If Kessinger ever goes down for whatever reason (we hope not), besides Drew Bianco, he is the next man up to play Shortstop but he could play 2nd or 3rd.
Oxford starts with 10 of their first 13 away from Edwin Moak Field. Of the first 6, only 1 is a true road game (at Pontotoc). The first 9 games are all tournament games, but includes 3 at home during Spring Break. The last of the 10 road trips is against New Hope to start region play. Oxford after that has 7 of the next 8 at home that includes three region games and two out-of-state opponents. Oxford then plays another 4 on the road before ending the season with 3 straight home games.
Oxford has been preseason ranked 4th by the Clarion-Ledger and is the top-ranked team among 5A schools. This squad is the deepest Oxford has seen since 2005 and high expectations have been set.