Extra Innings: No. 1 Vols rally to make SEC history. Meanwhile, in the SEC West ... chaos
SEC baseball seems to be near the point of being Tennessee and the SEC Dwarves. Nobody is within 5 games of UT in the SEC standings, with just a dozen league games to play. After the Vols, it’s … Arkansas? Georgia? We’ll have to see. After a typically insane weekend, here’s the SEC week that was.
1. UT’s predictable triumph … and a crazy finish
Tennessee can’t keep this up. Can they? No SEC team had ever started SEC play 17-1. And with the Vols down to their last out with nobody on base and a 4-2 deficit in Gainesville, it looked like 2022 Tennessee wasn’t the team to make history. Oops, never mind.
The series was a no-brainer. A back-against-the-wall Florida team was easily subdued, 8-2 on Friday and 3-0 on Saturday. But Sunday seemed different. Drew Beam was kind of normal. And UF led UT 4-2 with 2 outs and nobody on base in the UT 9th inning. But then, well, things got interesting. A Trey Lipscomb single, a Luc Lipcius walk, and an Evan Russell single brought up freshman DH Christian Moore.
CMo singles to bring in a pair and we're tied at 4!!!!!
— Tennessee Baseball (@Vol_Baseball) April 24, 2022
From there, it felt predestined. Sure, Florida got a runner to 3rd with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th. He didn’t scre. Sure, Moore answered the bell again with a 2-run homer in the 11th. Sure, the Gators went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 11th.
UT is 17-1 in SEC play. We should probably be asking how can they NOT keep this up?
2. Auburn sweeps Carolina …
Auburn had a successful weekend, sweeping South Carolina 6-3, 8-6, and 2-0 to pick up some ground in the SEC West. Joseph Gonzalez’s strong effort on Sunday might have been the highlight, as the Auburn ace worked 7 scoreless innings to drop his season ERA to 1.71.
— Auburn Baseball (@AuburnBaseball) April 24, 2022
Sonny DiChiara is hitting .445, which gives Auburn perhaps the hottest hitter and pitcher in the league — and a real shot in the West. But that wasn’t the only news from the Tigers.
3. And plans to honor The Big Hurt
Given their recent burst, Auburn apparently thought the time was right to honor an Auburn legend. A statue of first base standout Frank Thomas is now planned for the 2023 season. A 6th College World Series appearance would make a nice double-feature honor, and if the recent performance is any indicator, AU might just pull that off.
4. Good news for Georgia
It was a good week for UGA, as the Bulldogs won 2 of 3 games over Alabama, but more important, had their top 2 starting pitchers going at the same time for the first time in league play. First, Jonathan Cannon, who bounced back from a minor arm injury with 5 perfect innings in Saturday’s 3-0 win. Sunday brought the single loss of the series, a 3-0 setback to Bama, but even in that, UGA had good news. No. 2 starter Liam Sullivan was back, working 5 2/3 innings and striking out 6. UGA stayed 2 games ahead of Vandy for 2nd place in the East and now has a 5 game advantage on Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina. And pitching depth — the biggest knock on the Dawgs — could be a strength instead of a question.
5. A&M opens the door in the West
Arkansas has been by far the most consistent team in the SEC West, but Texas A&M had something to say about that, knocking off Arkansas by a 2-1 count on Friday and an 11-10 slugfest on Sunday (in between a 3-1 Razorback win on Saturday). The finale wasn’t as close as it looks, with A&M leaping out to a 7-0 lead, led by a 3-run blast from Austin Bost in a 5-run first inning. The game was close only because of a 5-run 8th inning from Arkansas to pull within a run. But even then, with Arkansas down a run with the tying run on 3rd and the lead run on 2nd and no out, A&M got filthy, with Jacob Palisch striking out the side and then setting the Hogs down in order in the 9th. Arkansas now leads Auburn by just a game, and LSU and A&M by 2 games.
6. Bulldogs take down Rebels
Mississippi’s annual series for state pride also became a battle for the bottom of the SEC West. After Ole Miss pulled out a 4-2 win in Oxford on Thursday, State flipped the script in the last 2 games to win the series. State overcome a 4-1 deficit in the 6th inning to win 10-7 on Fridat. Ole Miss fought off a series loss in the 9th inning on Saturday, but then State got a Brad Cumbest homer in the 11th and held on for a 7-6 win. The teams will meet again on Tuesday in Pearl, at the home of the Double-A Mississippi Braves.
7. LSU battles past Mizzou
LSU hosted and swept Missouri, but none of the wins came easy. It took a pair of Jacob Berry homers to win 5-3 on Thursday, and more dramatically, a Cade Doughty walk-off in extra innings on Friday.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAABaseball) April 23, 2022
LSU rode another Berry homer and solid relief pitching to an 8-6 win on Saturday. With a tough series with Georgia upcoming, it’ll be interesting to see if LSU can keep winning close games.
Berry has 13 homers this season — 3 behind SEC leaders Jud Fabian (Florida), Trey Lipscomb (Tennessee) and Tim Elko (Ole Miss).
8. Vandy overtakes Kentucky
Vandy no-hit Kentucky on Friday in a 10-0 thumper, but then lost to UK 3-2 on Saturday and needed some defensive help to nab a 5-3 win on Sunday.
— Vanderbilt Baseball (@VandyBoys) April 24, 2022
Yes, Enrique Bradfield does more than just steal bases. Winning the series keeps Vandy in the race for 2nd in the East, while Kentucky continues to fade to the back of the pack in the East.
9. NCAA outlook?
Baseball America’s latest weekly outlook (ahead of the weekend) had 8 SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee, Arkansas, and Georgia are listed by BA as potential regional hosts. The other league entrants would be Auburn, Alabama, Vandy, Texas A&M, and Florida. South Carolina was listed on BA’s “first four out,” with Alabama as one of the “last four in.” It’ll be interesting to see how the weekend impacts that projection. Auburn’s case as a regional host certainly wasn’t hurt.
Tennessee cover photo courtesy of Florida athletics via Twitter @Vol_Baseball