The Starkville Regional features one conference tournament champion, the Bears of Central Arkansas of the Southland Conference; a regular season co-champion, South Alabama of the Sun Belt Conference; a Mercer team that won its regular season title, and a team that might be playing its best ball of the season in Mississippi State.
Central Arkansas Bears--No. 4 Seed (Twitter: @UCAsports SBNation: None)
Record: (39-20,12-15 ) (Away 14-13 , Neutral 4-1 )
Strength of Schedule: 171
Qualified: Southland Conference Tournament Champion
Head Coach: Allen Gum
Offensive Leaders: Batting Average, Forrestt Allday (.383)
Home Runs, Michael Marietta (4)
RBIs, Michael Marietta (56)
If any four seed in the tournament feels like they have a chance at winning their first game, Central Arkansas will be that team. In an out of conference series, the Bears travelled to Starkville and took two of three games against the Bulldogs.
Bryce Biggerstaff (5-4, 2.91) tossed a complete game to pick up one of those victories for the Bears, and Jeffery Enloe (7-5, 3.28) drew the start in the other victory, a win claimed by Zach Barr in relief. Caleb McClanahan (10-5, 2.17), the ace of the staff, rounds out the starting rotation.
The Bears starters have the ability to start and finish as the club has tossed 14 complete games this season. With a team ERA of 2.78, the Bears have the talent on the mound to make up for weak hitting (.268 as a team). will not be mateams in that situation that will play with their confidence Friday.
Mercer--No. 3 Seed (Twitter: @mercerbaseball SBNation: )
Record: (43-16, 20-7 1st Atlantic Sun) ( 16-8 Away, 6-2 Neutral)
Strength of Schedule: 152
Head Coach: Craig Gibson
Offensive Leaders: Batting Average, Chesny Young (.394)
Home Runs, Nick Backlund (13)
RBIs, Nick Backlund (65)
The Mercer Bears should grab the attention of every pitching staff in the Starkville Regional with four everyday players batting over .300 and a team average of .301. Nick Backlund provides the pop in the line up, and he is a tough out as he has hit .322 on the season.
Brandon Barker (7-1, 2.35) and DJ Johnson (6-2, 2.80) have led the starters this season, and David Teasley (8-2, 5.57) and Ben Lumsden (5-2, 5.26) have picked up many wins out of the bullpen. Dimitri Kourtis leads the club with nine saves. Barker has picked up 78 strikeouts in 84.1 innings of work, and Teasley has mowed down foes out of the bullpen with 60 Ks in 53.1 innings of work.
The Bears sport quality wins over Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Georgia Tech.
South Alabama Jaguars--No. 2 Seed (Twitter: @USAJaguarSports SBNation: None)
Record: 42-18 (20-10, T-1 Sun Belt) (17-8 Away, 2-2 Neutral)
Strength of Schedule: 42
Head Coach: Mark Calvi
Offensive Leaders: Batting Average, Jordan Patterson (.350)
Home Runs, Dustin Dalken (8)
RBIs, Nolan Earley (58)
The South Alabama Jaguars stayed in the hunt for a regional hosting site until the very end of the season when the team dropped a series to Troy, causing a split in the regular season conference title. Any remaining hopes disappeared when Mississippi State defeated South Carolina in a series and produced a solid showing in the SEC tournament as the Jaguars dropped a pair of games to Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt Tournament. However, the Jaguars rank as one of the most dangerous No. 2 seeds in the tournament.
Offensively, the Jaguars will provide a test to all of their regional foes. The team bats .302 while averaging nearly seven runs a game. The damage could have been greater as the Jaguars average nearly nine runners left on base per contest.
On the mound, Matt Bell, Jacob Noble, and Jarron Cito have settled into the main starting position for South Alabama. Bell, who drew the start against Mississippi State, leads the group with a 3.52 ERA and a 6-1 record. Cito has the highest ERA of the three at 5.65, but he has also pitched the most innings (71.2) and leads the trio in strikeouts with 66.
Kyle Bartsch has nailed down the closer role for South Alabama with 12 saves and a 3-0 record in 21 appearances while sporting a 2.52 ERA. James Taylor has gone 5-3 in 21 appearances (four starts) and has picked up 52 strikeouts in 45 innings of work.
Mississippi State and South Alabama squared off once this year, a 6-4 victory for the Bulldogs on April 2 in Mobile.
Action in Starkville kicks off at 2 pm Friday when Mercer takes on South Alabama. The Bulldogs face the Central Arkansas at 7 pm. The winner of the Starkville Regional will face the winner of the Charlottesville Regional.