COLUMBIA — The Missouri baseball team expected to be invited to the NCAA tournament on Monday. It did not, however, expect to land in the regional with the No. 1 national seed.
The Tigers will travel to Miami to face the No. 1 Hurricanes as well as Ole Miss, a team that was included in Baseball America’s preseason top 10. Bethune-Cookman is the regional’s other participant.
FridayGame 1, 11 a.m. No. 2 seed Missouri (38-19) vs. No. 3 seed Ole Miss (37-24) Game 2, 3 p.m. No. 1 Miami (47-8) vs. No. 4 Bethune-Cookman (36-20)
SaturdayGame 3, 11 a.m. Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, Game 4, 3 p.m. Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner
SundayGame 5, 11 a.m. Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser Game 6, 3 p.m. Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner
MondayGame 7 (if necessary) 6 p.m. RADIO: ESPN Radio 1580 TV: ESPNU (all games from this regional)
“I was surprised. I didn’t think that we’d be going to a No. 1 seed,” said senior Jacob Priday referring to the eight teams given national seeds by the selection committee. “But that’s where they put us. It’s going to be a good regional for baseball, and every team in that regional can win it, so it’ll be interesting.”
While Ole Miss has dropped out of the national rankings after erratic play this season, Missouri is currently No. 12 in Baseball America’s poll.
“It’s always exciting,” Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said about the tournament invitation. “It’s an exciting time of the year, but with six (NCAA Regional appearances) in a row now, it’s more about wanting to be somewhere where we can win, wanting to be somewhere where we can move on beyond this regional, and that’s really kind of where the sights are.”
Moving beyond their regional was something the Tigers failed to do last season. Miami was one of three teams Missouri hosted in the regional round. The Tigers and Hurricanes did not face each other in that tournament, however, and Louisville eliminated both teams.
The winner of each four-team, double-elimination regional tournament advances to an NCAA super regional series against one other regional winner. The team that wins that best-of-three series then advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Although the Missouri pitching staff has been lauded most of the season, all three of its opponents boast better ERAs entering the regional. Like Missouri, Ole Miss was thought to have one of the nation’s best pitching staffs entering the season.
“We’re going to have to win. I think it’ll be difficult for us to go through the loser’s bracket because of that pitching that they talked about,” said Jamieson, noting ESPN analysts’ discussion of the pitching depth in the regional. “Once you get to late in the weekend, if you’ve had a loss, you’re going to be facing somebody that’s higher up on the pitching staff than someone we would be throwing. That’s why you need to stay out of the loser’s bracket, so you can stay one arm ahead of the other team.”
As they’ve done all season, Missouri will send Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Aaron Crow to the mound first.
“I think we’ve got some of the best pitchers in the country, so I’ll put our guys up against anybody right now,” Crow said. The junior, who has yet to lose a game this season, has never faced Ole Miss.
“(Pitching) coach (Tony) Vitello and (catcher) Trevor (Coleman) will get together and come up with a game plan, then I’ll just try to just execute it and let them deal with the whole thing,” he said. “(I) just go out there and do what I do.”
Vitello agreed, that with litle time to prepare and little information available, the focus of Crow’s preparation will be on himself rather than his opponent.
“We’ve never played Ole Miss since I’ve been here, so we’re going to take all the information we get with a grain of salt, and mainly focus on Aaron doing what Aaron needs to do,” he said.
Jamieson was quick to point out that sending Crow to the mound does not mean an automatic victory for his team. In Crow’s last start against Oklahoma on Thursday in the Big 12 tournament, Crow gave up just one earned run in seven innings, but four Missouri errors contributed to a 4-3 loss for the Tigers.
“I feel good that I know that we’re going to be in the game, but I also know that we’re going to have to play better defense than we’ve been playing, and we’re going to have to figure out a way to score runs against a really good pitcher,” Jamieson said.
According to Jamieson, winning such a difficult regional could result in added benefits for the team, beyond advancing to its second super regional.
“If you do win this, you’re lined up against the lowest No. 1 seed, and may have a chance to host a super regional potentially,” he said. “So there’s a lot of positives, you’re going to have to beat somebody like that somewhere along the line. If you do it early then maybe it’ll make the next step a little easier.”
Vitello, who is also the program’s recruiting coordinator, said the Tigers, win of lose, should value the chance to find out if they can beat the best team in the country.
“Definitely. You find out,” he said. “When we recruit these kids that are here we tell them, ‘In the Big 12 Conference you get to find out whether you can do it or not,’ and this is just a bigger stage example of that theory.”