CLEMSON, SC - The Tigers may have played their way into their 44th NCAA Tournament with their resounding 7-1 win over Louisville, the No.7 team in the country, at the ACC Tournament on Thursday. It was revealed on Monday that they will be the No.3 seed at the Oxford, Mississippi Regional, hosted by Ole Miss. The Tigers will face No.2 seed Illinois on Friday at 4:00. If the Tigers win on Friday, they will play at 7:00 on Saturday night. If they lose on Friday, they will play at 1:00 on Saturday. If they win the 1:00 game or lose the 7:00 game on Saturday, they will play at 3:00 on Sunday. If they win that game or if they won their first two games on Friday and Saturday, they will play Sunday night at 9:00. If they win that game and are 3-0, they advance to the Super Regional. If they win that game out of the loser's' bracket, they will have a rematch at 7:00 on Monday for a winner-take-all game to advance to the Super. The Tigers' 44th NCAA Tournament appearance is 5th-most all-time.
The Oxford Regional has to be considered a favorable draw for the Tigers, as Ole Miss was one of the lower ranked Regional hosts in the tournament, and No.2 seed Illinois is not a traditional power, playing in the less competitive Big Ten. It will be interesting to see if Monte decides to use his best pitcher, Mat Clark, in the opening game against Illinois or save him for the second game. Clark is easily the best pitcher on the staff right now, coming off a brilliant performance against Louisville in which he had a perfect game through 8.1 innings, earning him one of the two pitching spots on the All-Tournament Team. If the Tigers can get by Illinois with Hennessy or Sharpe, they will have a great opportunity to seize control of the regional with Clark and a 2-0 start. Historically, the team that wins its first two games takes the regional much more often than not because it gets the most rest and only has to win one more out of its next 2. Naturally, the first game is the most important, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Monte hold Clark in the hopes that he can beat Illinois with Hennessy or Sharpe.
The Tigers and Illini have a couple common opponents this season. Illinois beat Wake Forest early in the season and took 2 of 3 from Coastal Carolina, who the Tigers beat in both meetings. The Tigers won 2 of 3 against Wake, and they played both of those opponents in the last couple weeks of the season. If the Tigers are able to advance from the Oxford Regional, they will go to Fayetteville to play No.5 Arkansas in the Super Regional unless the Hogs are upset in their regional. Arkansas lost to UGA and was eliminated by Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament last week. The Hogs led late in both games but lost 3-1 and 3-2.
I asked Monte if there is any chance that Kier Meredith could see action in the regional, and he said no without hesitation. It looks like they will apply for a medical redshirt for Meredith unless they make it to the Super Regional or even Omaha. Interviews with Monte Lee, Logan Davidson, Grayson Byrd and Mat Clark are below!
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