• 66°

The Rematch: Oxford with a different approach to Madison Central round two

OXFORD – The Oxford Chargers have been here before. Recently.

As head coach Chris Baughman’s squad travels to Madison Central on Thursday afternoon to kickoff their best-of-three playoff series with the Jaguars, it’s hard not to think back to what happened just one year prior.

Baughman described his team last year as a bit of an underdog against Madison Central, calling them one of the two most talented teams in the state. His team remembers it somewhat differently.

Oxford beat Madison Central two games to one in the quarterfinals of the playoffs just one year ago. Dropping game one, the Chargers rallied back to win game two on the road before winning the third game at home in extra innings.

This time around, things may look a little different.

“Last year, we were probably more of the powerhouse team. We were the one seed and we knew we were better than everyone else,” said junior third baseman Sam Bianco. “This year, it’s a little harder. We have to think about it differently. They’re seeded higher and they definitely have more talent on the mound. At the plate we just have to be better mentally and have better approaches.”

Baughman describes the Madison Central team as, well, they’re just Madison. They’re one of the teams that controls baseball at the 6A level, along with DeSoto Central, the team that bounced Oxford from the playoffs last season, and Oak Grove.

There are a few players on the Oxford team, like Sam Bianco and senior captain Clay Ivy, who played in the series last year. But for the ones who haven’t, it’s been important to keep their heads level and not overthinking the big matchup against a perennially great team.

“We’ve told (the younger kids) to just relax and don’t let the moment get to big,” Ivy said. “If you do that, you’ll put too much pressure on yourself and freak out. Then you’re not mentally in the game. It’s just about relaxing and letting the game come to you.”

A lot of those senior leaders from last year are gone. Like any school, as players move on, roles increase and new players need to step up. Bianco was more of a role player as a sophomore – now he’s a key cog batting leadoff for the Chargers. Ivy has transitioned from more of a role of getting on base to being the guy driving in runs.

Despite fluid roles, Baughman and the Oxford coaching staff’s message has remained consistent. The series is about applying pressure to the other team. Really, whoever makes the fewest mistakes is likely to win the series, especially in a matchup where both teams are so familiar with each other.

“They know us, and we know them. So it’s two teams that know each other really well. We played against each other obviously last year in the playoffs, but we play them once or twice every other year,” Bianco said. “This year, I think it’s just going to be whoever goes out there and plays harder. It’s not really a talent situation, it’s who’s grittier and who wants it more.”

Game one of the series with Madison Central will be on the road Thursday. The Chargers return home Friday at 7 p.m. for game two. Game three, if needed, will be played at Madison Central on Saturday.