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: Tuesday, April 28th @ 7:00, Game 2: Thursday, April 30th @ 7:00, Game 3: Friday, May 1st @ 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)
Keys: CL - Clarion-Ledger Baseball Poll, MP - Maxpreps Computer Poll, MPX - Maxpreps Xcellent Top 50 National Poll, BA - Baseball America National HS Poll, UST - USA Today National HS Poll. Ranking in 5A is from Maxpreps.
Probable starting rotation: Oxford - Jr. RHP Jason Barber (7-0, 0.00 ERA), Jr. RHP Houston Roth (6-0, 1.60), Jr. RHP Grae Kessinger (3-0, 1.65). Center Hill - So. RHP Frankie Hefflinger (2-3, 2.44), Sr. RHP Hayden Appleton (1-2, 1.83), So. LHP Dalton Cohea (4-3, 4.01)
The Lowdown: Last year, Oxford started off against the 2nd-worst Maxpreps ranked 5A 3-seed in the state in Callaway. The year before as a 1-seed Oxford had Starkville as a 3-seed in the playoffs. That series unexpectedly went three games. Oxford last year probably went through the toughest road to reach where they got in beating #1 Lewisburg in three games, sweeping #4 Germantown (at the time) and then forced out by New Hope.
Center Hill is the highest ranked 3-seed in the state ranked 11th in 5A according to Maxpreps. Oxford needs to come ready for battle like they have for 27 straight games come Tuesday night. The Chargers will need to. Familiar faces will be met.
It is no secret Grae Kessinger transferred from Center Hill over the summer to Oxford. I'm sure there is a lot of mutual respect for one another. Unfortunately Kessinger could very well be the reason why the Mustangs will go packing come the end of this series. You don't have to be smart to know that Kessinger knows most of the current Center Hill team and know their tendencies that can be revealed to the Oxford coaching staff.
Then again, wanting to beat a former teammate would be very sweet to do and all that comes with it.
If Oxford learned anything from last year when they beat then-top ranked Lewisburg is to not take any team for granted, not look ahead, and that any dog can have their day like what happened in Game 2 against the Patriots when they allowed 13 1st inning runs. Their coaches made the mistake of asking us what New Hope is like and how they matched up. The same applies to Center Hill this year. Although Oxford has responded to just about every situation possible in a positive manner. Oxford has been down 4 runs early, down a run late in the game, has gone to extra innings to finish opponents off, walk-off in the 7th, lose a lead and get it back, and beaten quality opponents to a pulp.
Now enough mind games - now about facts about what to see in this series:
The Mustangs face a TALL order against likely Game 1 starter Jason Barber who has allowed just one unearned run and no earned runs this season and has thrown two no-hitters, one of which was a perfect game against 1-4A Champion Itawamba. Manufacturing runs will be key if they stand any chance against Barber. Then there is Houston Roth who is 21-1 in his high school career entering this series. If the Mustangs find a way to split with those two pitchers, they will likely see their former teammate Kessinger or LHP Dalton Markle in a Game 3 scenario.
It is worth mentioning against Center Hill last year, head coach Chris Baughman elected to start Hunter Roth in that game instead of Barber (who he started against Louisville earlier that day). That move may turn out to pay dividends come Tuesday night as Center Hill beyond Kessinger has not seen any of the current Oxford pitchers pitch against them. Had the Mustangs faced Barber last year, Center Hill may have been better prepared to know what is likely coming in Game 1.
Not only do the Mustangs need to scrap whatever runs they can, they need to keep the hot Oxford bats down. Oxford as a team bats .338 which against the quality opponents Oxford has faced is very good. The Mustangs team ERA sits at 3.41 which is not that bad, but when Oxford's ERA is 1.09 it will be tough to think allowing 3 runs a game against Oxford will be enough. Oxford has not had a game where they have allowed more than 5 runs all season.
This is why they play the games though. Should be a fun series in more ways than one. Tuesday's game is likely to move thanks to the ever-persistent Mother Nature wanting to ruin the fun.
For Oxford to Win This Series, They Must: Continue the Pitching Dominance - It is the reason why Oxford is 27-0. Barber, Houston Roth, Kessinger, and Dalton Markle have carried the Chargers this far with their dominant pitching.
Continue Swinging a Hot Bat - 1-thru-9 in Oxford's lineup have no cheap outs. Nearly every player is hitting .300 or better and all but 2-3 players can hit it out at any moment. The Charger bats seem to do better the second time through the order.
No Baserunning Mistakes - If there is one thing Oxford has shown some weakness on, it's this. Getting picked off, making bad decisions, or simply not reading the proper play being called out. Oxford has made more than a couple cheaps out in a game every now and then. The Chargers can't take their own bat out of their hands.
For Center Hill to Win This Series, They Must: Make the Game a Pitchers Duel - To beat Oxford, you have to win in a pitchers duel. You have to win 1-0 or some score of the sorts. The Mustangs did that against Vicksburg in Game 1 in a 3-0 win, but really without the additional error that aided the score should've been 1-0. But they have won a pitchers duel especially recently. But to do that they must...
Make No Defensive Mistakes - If Oxford gets a clean hit, so be it, but they can't make errors. Making errors against Oxford will kill any chances they may have at making the nationwide upset. It is something Oxford is much better at this year and their bats are too good to get away with errors. Unless they solve the Oxford Pitching Staff puzzle with their bats, the Mustangs are going to have to win this at Oxford's own game: pitching and defense.
Game 2 (for Olive Branch, MS location) - At first pitch, Partly Cloudy (no chance for rain), winds NNW (from RF to LF), 65*F
Game 3 - At first pitch, Partly Cloudy (no chance for rain), winds N (out to RF) at 5-10 MPH, 68*F
Other Notes: The 27-0 start is the best start in school history for Oxford. In Oxford's last meeting against Center Hill, Kessinger was the winning pitcher - as a member of the Mustangs. Oxford has not lost in this round of the playoffs since the current 3-team-per-region format has been established.