Previewing the field of the Knoxville Regional

An early look at Indiana’s opponents in Tennessee, Southern Mississippi, and Northern Kentucky

By Zach Horwitz @HorwitzZach May 27th, 2024

Huddled inside the locker room within Bart Kaufman Field sat the Indiana Hoosiers who fell a game short of the Big Ten Tournament championship game and awaited its fate. With tension palpable in the air, they anticipated an announcement. That sure didn’t take long.

The Hoosiers were amongst the first four teams announced, making way for a trip to Knoxville, TN. The host site is that of the Tennessee Volunteers, who look to defend the raucous Lindsey-Nelson Stadium, as the nation’s No.1 overall national seed. 

1-seed Tennessee Volunteers

Let’s start off with the top seed on Rocky Top, where Tony Vitello and the Vols are on the hunt for a fourth straight regional title. Tennessee enters the postseason with a 50-11 record, an impressive 50-win margin for the third time in the past four seasons. 

After finishing the regular season with a sweep of No. 23 South Carolina, the Volunteers fell as the SEC’s top seed in the opening game of the conference tournament. From there, Tennessee won four consecutive ball games, all of those against teams in the NCAA Tournament field, and three of those by one run. Vitello’s club took the crown of the SEC in the regular season and tournament for the second time in three seasons. 

As one can imagine, the best team in the country has it all. The pitching staff has 12 qualified players with a 4.76 ERA or better in 10 or more appearances, with six guys over the 30 innings mark. To put things into perspective, Indiana, who runs a pitching committee, also has six guys with a mass amount of appearances under their belt. 

The Volunteers run on two starters, Drew Beam and Zander Sechrist. Beam, who leads the team with 85 innings pitched, sports a 3.92 ERA from his high arm slot and 6’4 frame. He tossed eight innings against a common opponent in Alabama. Beam would likely go on extra rest assuming that Tennessee comes out victorious in its initial game of the regional. Sechrist is a veteran southpaw that moved from the midweek role to a weekend starter, and continuously sparks Tennessee’s offense when he’s on the bump.

On that note, the Vols at the plate are dangerous, and it shows. Tennessee relies on the long ball, which is the reason it is atop the entire country in home runs with 147. On the Golden Spikes Award watch list is Christian Moore, who owns a .382 batting average and 28 homers. He is back-ended by a trio of returning players and a transfer who have launched at least 17 long balls a piece. Blake Burke, Kavares Tears, Dylan Dreiling, and Billy Amick round out the star-studded lineup at the dish for the hosts. 

Indiana will almost certainly face Tennessee if they want to advance out of the Knoxville Regional.

2-seed Southern Miss Golden Eagles

The most important game is the first one, as stated by Jeff Mercer. His team opens up against the No. 2 seeded Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles who have earned their 8th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. USM has been scorching as of late, winning 14 of its last 15 contests including a claim of the Sun Belt title for the second year in a row. The Golden Eagles completed the 2024 season with a 41-18 record, good for the longest streak in Division 1 Baseball in acquiring 40 wins, their 8th straight. After the legendary Scott Berry called it a career after 14 seasons in Hattiesburg, first year head coach Christian Ostrander will take the squad on a seven-hour trek east to Knoxville.

Southern Miss has a very similar play style to that of Indiana. They work counts, notch extra-base hits, and utilize a slew of arms to its advantage. Although, unlike IU, USM is heavily reliant on the top half of the lineup, which is often the focus for opposing pitching staffs. Dalton Mcintyre owns the team lead with a stunning .389 batting average, Slade Wilks with a 1.009 OPS, team-leading 14 home runs and 65 RBIs, and BYU transfer Ozzie Pratt who has started all 59 games. 

On the pitching end, Hoosier fans should expect to see Southern Miss’ ace Billy Oldham. Oldham is a senior hurler who will be on a five day rest from his last outing in which he threw just one inning. The right-hander has a .219 batting average against, with impressive offspeed options to rack up strikeouts. 

The Hoosiers and Golden Eagles have several common opponents. Southern Mississippi is 9-3 against these teams. This includes 2-1 over Indiana State, a midweek win over Alabama, 3-1 record against Troy, and 3-1 over Coastal Carolina. 

Indiana is just 3-4 against those similar programs.

4-seed Northern Kentucky Norse

Lastly, the Horizon League champion Northern Kentucky Norse round out the field in Knoxville. They finished the year 35-22 and took the automatic bid as their first ever postseason appearance. The Norse visited Bloomington on March 6 in a midweek matchup in which Indiana came out on top by an 11-5 margin. Indiana slashed its way to five runs in the first inning, highlighted by a big day from Brock Tibbitts who recorded four hits. Jake Stadler and Andrew Wiggins went deep in the lone meeting.

NKU will have a tall task to take down the nation’s top team in Tennessee in its opening game. They’ll have to do it with their bats in a relatively hitter-friendly ballpark. The Norse are surely up to the challenge, having six batsmen above a .300 average. The question is whether they have the depth to twirl multiple good performances to get deep in the region. Only time will tell but a 4-seed found its way to the College World Series in Omaha last season.

There’s a huge discernment in the field at Lindsey-Nelson Stadium as offensive firepower differs for each program. Indiana opens up play at 1 p.m. ET on Friday, May 31 against the No. 2 seed Southern Mississippi. It’ll be a deep game plan and scouting job for Jeff Mercer’s crew to set up the pitching staff in its best odds. A Southern Miss team that sprays the ball over the field but doesn’t leave the yard much could yield a Connor Foley start. But you could see a reliability option in Ty Bothwell who can go on short rest as showcased in the Big Ten Tournament. The Hoosiers and Golden Eagles open the regional with Tennessee and Northern Kentucky to follow.