We’re dancing in the streets of Oxford!
Illinois was selected as the No. 2 seed in the Oxford Regional in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The region includes southern powerhouses Clemson and Ole Miss, as well as Jacksonville State. Let’s take a look at some players that could stand in the Illini’s way.
Byrd is the son of former major league pitcher and Atlanta Braves broadcaster, Paul Byrd. Unlike his father, Grayson is a home run machine. Byrd hit a total of 15 home runs this year and was the only Tiger to bat above .300. He was named to the All-ACC First Team because of his fantastic season. Despite his power at the plate, Byrd has committed a team-high 13 errors this year in the outfield. Still, he poses a serious threat on offense but can be exploited in the field.
Davidson is easily the second-best hitter on the team behind Byrd. Davidson matched Byrd in home runs at 15 this season and finished the year just below .300, but Davidson gets on base more. He finished the season with an on-base percentage of .414, due in large part to his 43 walks. The key for the Illini will be to keep him off the bag before Byrd bats.
Ole Miss is stacked with great batters, but Rebels’ shortstop Grae Kessinger might just be the best. Currently, he’s batting at the tune of .336 with an on-base percentage of .428. Kessinger doesn’t have a lot of power at the plate, only notching five home runs this year, but leads the team with 60 runs scored. Keeping Kessinger off the bag will be important for the Illini as Ole Miss has some big hitters behind him.
Zabrowski is the power hitter that Illini pitchers will have to be careful against. He hit a total of 10 home runs with a slugging percentage of .496. Zabrowski also leads the team in strikeouts with 56, so the Illinois pitching staff will have to paint the strike zone to get him out.
Gaddis leads the Gamecocks in nearly every category and is the perfect combination of a power and contact hitter. He had a batting average of .333 and also hit 13 home runs this season. Gaddis contributed defensively at catcher, only committing six errors for a fielding percentage of .982.
Illinois will face Clemson in the first game of the tournament on Friday at approximately 3 p.m. CT and can be seen on ESPNU. The regional will run until Monday (if necessary).
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