Extra Innings: 27 runs, Texas A&M wins SEC West and Kentucky rallies to make Hoover
That’s a wrap on SEC play, at least in the regular season. Surely we all had Tennessee and Texas A&M ruling their divisions, with Vandy finishing below .500 and reigning national champion Mississippi State not making the SEC Tournament? No? Well, the final weekend of SEC play included several surprises, a couple of dangerous teams gathering momentum and a few more unforgettable moments from a big season.
Here’s a look back at one more weekend before the real party begins with the SEC Tournament in Hoover next week.
1. 27 runs. Yes, 27 runs
Two of the biggest stories of the SEC season coincided in the final series with regular-season title winner UT meeting equally surprising SEC cellar-dwellar (and defending CWS champion) Mississippi State. In case the contrast wasn’t apparent enough, UT put up 27 runs on Thursday. Not in the series. On Thursday.
— Tennessee Baseball (@Vol_Baseball) May 20, 2022
How does that happen? Well, 14 extra-base hits, including multi-homer games for Luc Lipcius and Jorel Ortega (who had 5 hits and 8 RBIs). 25 base hits, 8 walks, 3 hit batters. For 6 innings, Chase Dollander held MSU without a hit while the Vols scored 14 runs. There is no shortage of rare things about this game, much like there’s no shortage of rare things about UT’s season.
Suffice it to say, sweeping the Bulldogs gets UT back on stride heading into Hoover. Suffice it to say that it’s an injury-riddled disappointment of a season that State would love to forget. That 2021 College World Series trophy probably helps more than a little.
2. A&M wins the West
Texas A&M had the head-to-head tiebreaker over Arkansas, with whom they were tied entering the SEC’s final weekend. The Aggies didn’t rely on that, though, winning their series against a resurgent Ole Miss squad while the Hogs lost their series to Alabama. A&M’s offense did a number on Rebels pitching. They won 10-5 on Thursday, lost 14-6 on Friday, and then won the division with a 12-5 win on Saturday.
A&M trailed 5-2 in the 4th inning, but a 3-run bomb from Dylan Rock set the stage for a grand slam off the bat of Brett Minnich.
?@brettminnich17 orders the salami sammich!!!
— Texas A&M Baseball (@AggieBaseball) May 21, 2022
It ended up being a crowning moment for an A&M team that silently climbed the ladder to the West title. A&M has done plenty of small things well — they’re 2nd in the SEC behind UT in drawing walks, 3rd in on-base percentage, 2nd in stolen bases behind Vandy. Can Jim Schlossnagle’s team keep doing that in Hoover and beyond? If the odds are against it, bear in mind that this Aggie squad was picked to finish 6th in the West before the season.
3. Arkansas’ stumble
The Razorbacks looked to have the West all but cinched, but they dropped their last 2 series matchups to sub-.500 SEC foes in Vandy and Alabama. What’s the issue? Arkansas’ starting pitching has been consistently poor down the SEC stretch. The offense hasn’t done much to help all season — they’re 13th in the SEC in batting average and 7th in runs scored. But the pitching staff has been key — their 3.89 ERA is 2nd-best in the SEC. They’ve given up just 43 homers all year and their 17 saves tie for league-high. If the pitching rebounds, they’re still dangerous. If not, it’ll be the higher-voltage offenses that blow past Arkansas.
4. Kentucky surprises against Auburn
Kentucky went into the weekend in fairly good shape to nab a spot in the SEC Tournament … until Missouri upset Georgia in each of the first 2 games of that series. Kentucky came into Saturday needing either an Arkansas win over Alabama (which didn’t happen) or a win over Auburn to qualify for Hoover.
The Wildcats had split a doubleheader with the Tigers on Friday, winning 5-1 and then losing 6-3. With the season on the line, Kentucky rallied from a 1-0 deficit with a 5-run 6th inning on the strength of 3 singles, 3 walks and a double, keying a 6-3 win that put the Wildcats into the SEC Tournament.
Kentucky thus can claim series wins over Tennessee and Auburn in the last few series matchups of the season. Will that carry over into Hoover? We’ll see.
5. The return of Jacob Berry
After getting swept by Ole Miss, LSU damned the torpedos and brought back Jacob Berry, broken finger and all, on the theory that a one-handed Jacob Berry is still better than most two-handed humans. It was true.
Berry is hitting right-handed due to the injury (he was switch hitting before the broken finger compromised his left-handed swing). But as to his productivity? Well, let’s just say he’s doing fine. Berry went 4-for-9 with an RBI. Meanwhile, LSU was also fine, sweeping Vandy while racking up 42 runs in the series.
The Tigers have one of the most dangerous offenses in college baseball and managed to grab a bye as the No. 4 overall seed in Hoover. Getting Berry back is a game-changer for the Tigers … and also for whoever they play. Meanwhile …
6. What’s up with Vandy?
The Commodores would have tied for 2nd in the East if they had won a game over LSU, and would have claimed 2nd outright had they won the series. Instead, the preseason favorite to win the SEC East is absolutely struggling.
The implosion against LSU jumped the ‘Dores’ team ERA to 3.99, which is still 3rd in the SEC. But Vandy finished the regular season 11th in the SEC in runs scored and 9th in home runs.
A 14-16 conference season was Vandy’s first losing league record since 2009. It’s far from impossible that the Vandy Boys could pull it together … but it’s getting harder to imagine.
7. Florida’s late climb …
On the other hand, Florida was stuck in the bottom of the league a few short weeks ago and they nearly climbed to 2nd in the East, tying for that spot with Georgia. In fact, had the Gators managed to win Saturday against South Carolina, they’d have won it outright. Even with that 4-1 loss, the Gators went 9-3 in their final 4 SEC series. Yes, some of that was weaker competition — the Gators beat the 2 SEC squads that didn’t make Hoover, and Kentucky and South Carolina. But UF’s offense hit its home run stride — Wyatt Langford tied for the SEC lead in homers with 21 and Jud Fabian added 20.
UF’s 102 homers were 3rd in the SEC. And their pitching quietly improved to a 4.13 ERA, which was 5th in the league. If UF’s bullpen can produce and the longball continues, Florida will continue to climb.
8. And Georgia’s swoon
Meanwhile, Georgia lost its last 4 SEC weekends and needed a walk-off moment to avoid being swept by Mizzou.
— Georgia Baseball (@BaseballUGA) May 21, 2022
The 11-10 win on Saturday was nice, but the 11-3 and 10-3 losses demonstrated UGA’s issue. That 5.74 ERA won’t play well in the postseason. Jonathan Cannon has been outstanding, but pitching depth seems to be dropping the Bulldogs late. Considering the nature of postseason play, UGA can’t be feeling terribly confident.
9. The NCAA puzzle
With Hoover set, it’s not too early to talk NCAA. As usual, we had an eye on what Baseball America was saying earlier in the week. They had 9 SEC teams in the field: UT, A&M, Auburn, Vandy and Arkansas hosting with Georgia, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss also getting bids. What impact would the last week have? It’s hard to imagine a Vandy team that went 14-16 in SEC play in a hosting role. LSU probably jumped the ‘Dores in that spot. There’s no real momentum on the bubble, as Alabama is still in BA’s “next four out” and probably still needs some good work in Hoover to play their way into the NCAA field.
Cover photo via Twitter @AggieBaseball