OXFORD, Miss. — In the span of just an hour or so last Sunday, Ole Miss went from the disappointment of dropping the championship game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, 11-10, to Vanderbilt to the elation of learning the NCAA Regionals will be coming to Oxford.
Ole Miss (37-25) is seeded 12th in the tournament and will host Jacksonville (Ala.) State Friday at 7 p.m., on ESPN3. Clemson will play Illinois in the first game of the day at 3 p.m., on ESPNU.
The winner of the double-elimination tournament will advance to Super Regionals and will play the winner of the Arkansas Regional.
Before any team can move on from Oxford, however, it will have to beat some teams that have some pretty cool things going for them as a school and as a location.
Here is a look at the teams visiting Swayze Field this week and some cool tidbits about each:
JACKSONVILLE (ALA.) STATE
The Ohio Valley Conference champs come into the regional at 37-21. Don’t expect the Gamecocks to be intimidated by an SEC venue. Jacksonville, Ala., is located smack dab in the middle of SEC country, and this season head coach Jim Case’ team split a pair of games with Auburn and Georgia and also dropped a game to Alabama.
In addition, Jax State has played in seven NCAA Division II College World Series, winning it all in 1990 and 1991.
The Gamecock roster features 28 of its 33 players from the state of Alabama.
Leading the way is senior catcher Nic Gaddis who is hitting .333 with 13 home runs. Junior switch hitter Alex Webb is batting .308 with 16 doubles and he has driven in 56 runs.
Garrett Farmer and Dylan Hathcock have each started 15 games this season. Farmer is 5-1 with a 2.24 earned run average while Hathcock is 3-0 on the season. The most consistent Gamecock pitcher has been Corley Woods. The junior righty is 6-0 in a relief role.
COOL THINGS ABOUT THE GAMECOCKS
ALUMS: Jacksonville State boasts such alums as Randy Owen, the lead singer of the country band, Alabama; CNN meterologist Reynolds Wolf; and, although it can’t match Ole Miss’ success in the category, Jax State also produced Heather Whiteside, the 1995 Miss America.
SOMETHING (UN)COOL ABOUT JAX STATE: In 2010, the Gamecocks’ football team rolled into Oxford and beat Ole Miss 49-48 in double overtime at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. It was the first time the Rebels lost to a lower-division team since 1945 when Chattanooga whipped Ole Miss 31-6.
It was Houston Nutt’s first year as coach of the Rebels. He had come to Ole Miss from Arkansas. The Jacksonville State coach that day was Jack Crowe. He had been the coach of the Razorbacks when they lost to the FCS Citadel in 1992 and two days later he was fired in Fayetteville and resurfaced in northeast Alabama.
As Crowe said after the win over Ole Miss, “If you stay around long enough you get to be on each side of these things.”
SOMETHING (UN)COOL ABOUT JACKSONVILLE: On March 19, 2018, an EF3 tornado struck both Jacksonville and the Jax State campus. The storm cost about $42 million in damages, but thankfully, the low injury count was due to the storm hitting during spring break on campus.
The Tigers come into the regional at 34-24 from the Atlantic Coast Conference. And we all know from last football season what the ACC can do to the SEC.
Clemson has faced a couple of SEC teams this year, going 1-2 against arch-rival South Carolina and dropping a pair of games to Georgia. One of those losses to UGA came in a 20-inning game.
Senior Grayson Byrd is the catalyst of the Clemson offense. He started his career at LSU — where his father and former major league pitcher Paul Byrd was a star–but transferred to Clemson after his freshman year. It’s worked out for outfielder Grayson as he leads the Tigers in batting average (.315), home runs (15) and RBIs (56) entering the NCAA tournament opener against Illinois.
Logan Davidson has driven in 55 runs while blasting 15 homers and collecting 17 doubles. Sophomore Sam Hall sets the table for those RBI by stealing 30-of-35 bases.
Clemson’s pitching staff is anchored by a lefty-righty combination. Lefthander Mat Clark is 9-2 on the year with a 2.84 ERA. His righthanded counterpart David Sharp is 6-4 and has struck out 80 batters. Junior Carson Spiers has 11 saves on the year.
COOL THINGS ABOUT THE TIGERS
ALUMS: Clemson has an ecclectic roster of alums. On one hand, there is Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and former U.N. Ambassador from the United States. Then, there is Robert Brooks who is the founder of the Hooters restaurants, along with William Perry, better known as Chicago Bears’ great, “The Fridge.”
SOMETHING SEMI (UN) COOL ABOUT CLEMSON: When university founder Thomas Green Clemson died, he left most of his estate to establish a college. In his will, Clemson stated he wanted the school to be modeled after another school — Mississippi State University.
SOMETHING REALLY COOL ABOUT CLEMSON, S.C.: The place is home to The Esso Club. ESPN the Magazine picked it as the best college sports bar in America. In 1977, famed columnist Lewis Grizzard went to Clemson to write about a pep rally for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but instead he ended up having a few adult beverages at the Esso. Grizzard spent the entire day at the place and ended up writing his column on the Esso, giving the establishment national attention.
The Illini come to Oxford with a 36-19 record and they have a slight connection to Ole Miss. Senior Michael Michalak transferred to Illinois from Des Moines Area Community College. That is the same school that produced Ole Miss softball pitching ace Molly Jacobsen.
Illinois has a trio of offensive weapons hitting over the .300 mark. Senior third baseman Grant Van Scoy leads the way at .347, while Houston transfer Zac Taylor is at .331 with 10 homers and 100 runs batted in.
Second baseman Michael Massey has 99 RBI and a .325 average.
On the mound, senior lefty Andy Fisher is 7-1 while fanning 89 batters this year. Sean Leland is 6-3 with 57 strikeouts.
COOL THINGS ABOUT THE ILLINI
ALUMS: Prepare for coolness — Illinois has alums such as Playboy founder Hugh Hefner; one of the NFL founders, George Halas; Max Levchin and Luke Nosek who founded PayPal; and BET Network founder Robert L. Johnson.
SOMETHING SEMI (UN) COOL ILLINOIS SHARES WITH OLE MISS: Both schools have had mascot controversies. At Illinois, Chief Illiniwek was the official symbol of the univerisity’s athletic programs for decades. But the NCAA expressed its displeasure of the Native American mascot in 2005 and two years later, the university board retired him. Colonel Reb has company.
SOMETHING COOL ABOUT CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS: In 1959, Carl Perkins and Bob Dylan wrote the song, “Champaign, Illinois,” which Perkins recorded. In addition, Memorial Stadium in Champaign hosted the first Farm Aid concert. The event drew an estimated 80,000 people and raised over $7 million for American farmers.