Extra Innings: The SEC upset of the year, a triple play and plenty more
With just 2 weekends left in SEC regular-season play, everything we know may still be wrong. On any given weekend, anything can still happen. Don’t believe it? Check in with Tennessee, coming into the weekend at 19-2 in conference play — and promptly losing a series to, get this, Kentucky. Yes, the same Kentucky where coach Nick Mingione’s job could be (may have been?) in jeopardy.
While that was the wildest result of the weekend, it was far from the only surprise. In the East, Vandy and Florida remain in play, and in the West, LSU, A&M and Auburn are going down to the wire with potential first-round byes in Hoover on the line.
Anything can happen in SEC baseball … and it probably will. But here are the biggest stories from the week that was.
1. Holy upset, Batman
Tennessee was No. 1 in the nation. Kentucky was at the bottom of the SEC. But it all changed in a hurry. First, Kentucky played all night on Thursday to nab a 13-inning 3-2 victory.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) May 6, 2022
Then, Friday was going Kentucky’s way … until an 8th inning rainstorm caused that game to be suspended with UK holding a 4-2 lead. But UK’s pitching staff finished that 5-2 win early on Saturday. After 2 games of keeping UT in the ballpark, the Vols ripped 4 homers in a 7-2 win later on Saturday, but Kentucky had already shocked college baseball and handed the Vols their first series loss.
The Wildcats are still just 4 games behind Georgia for 2nd place in the East, and if they finish strong, could play their way into the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, Tennessee was shockingly human. It’ll be interesting to see how the Vols respond, with the top seed in Hoover already wrapped up.
2. Triple play … and a series to remember for the Aggies
A triple play requires a fair amount of luck, in terms of a perfect storm moment. Still, there’s always something special about a potential big inning ending in a single pitch with 3 outs. And South Carolina had a big moment on Friday.
— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) May 7, 2022
That said, while Friday had history for Carolina (but a win for A&M), the Aggies made their own historic noise on Saturday. Carolina jumped to an 8-0 lead in the 2nd inning, that stretched to 9-0 in the 4th inning. The Aggies answered with 5 runs in the 5th, 1 in the 7th and 5 more in the 8th. Trailing 12-11 in the 9th, A&M opened the inning with a pair of outs, but after a walk, the Aggies had one more big moment left.
— Texas A&M Baseball (@AggieBaseball) May 7, 2022
Carolina did pick up a win on Sunday, but the Aggies had a comeback to remember, overcame a triple play, and are tied for 2nd in the West (and for the 3rd best overall SEC record) with just 6 league games to go.
3. Arkansas takes down Auburn
In a series that had major West division significance, Arkansas held onto its lead by winning 2 of 3 from Auburn. The Tigers didn’t come away with a series win, but they played competitive baseball against one of the nation’s top teams. The tone was set on Friday, when Auburn jumped to a 5-0 lead after 4 innings, but then the Hogs answered with 2, 2, 4 and 3 runs in the next 4 innings to take an 11-6 lead (including an epic Robert Moore bat flip, below). Auburn trimmed the margin to 11-8, but Arkansas held the Tigers there for the win.
When you know, you know pic.twitter.com/MW3hO5Rj4C
— Arkansas Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) May 7, 2022
On Saturday, Arkansas led 3-2 in the 7th inning, but Auburn rallied for a 5-3 win with Sonny DiChiara ripping his 14th homer of the year. Arkansas got to Auburn ace Jacob Gonzalez on Sunday, getting 5 runs off him in 2 2/3 innings and holding on for a 7-4 win. Winning the series was big for the Hogs, but doing it with the bat was probably even more critical. Arkansas improved to 9th in the league in runs scored in league play, and the Razorbacks are only a single whiff from being the toughest team to strike out, which bodes well down the season’s stretch.
4. LSU hanging in the West race, but with a big setback
LSU continued riding its potent offense into the thick of the West race, winning 2 of 3 games from Alabama. Trailing 2-0 on Friday, LSU put up a 5-run 5th inning, highlighted by a pair of homers and RBIs from Jacob Berry and Cade Doughty.
That said, it may be the last RBI from Berry for a while (or for good). He broke a finger in his right hand before Saturday’s game and is out of the lineup indefinitely. LSU lost to Bama 8-3 on Saturday, but bounced back with a 12-3 win, demonstrating that yes, they have plenty of power even without Berry. But do they have an Omaha offense without Berry? Or can they get him back before that?
5. Vandy overtakes Georgia, with a freshman leading the way
It feels very odd to say that Vandy won a pivotal road series … to raise its record to .500 in SEC play, but that is exactly what happened. After a pair of slugfest — Vandy winning 11-9 on Friday, Georgia winning 13-7 on Saturday, the ‘Dores’ pitching staff was the difference on Sunday.
Freshman starter Carter Holton went 6 scoreless innings in the 4-0 win … and if Holton can mature into Vandy’s under-the-radar ace, the Commodores just might have noise left to make in postseason play. It also wouldn’t hurt if left fielder Javy Vaz continues to play Spiderman defense …
— Vanderbilt Baseball (@VandyBoys) May 8, 2022
6. Florida making a run
A few weeks back, I predicted that Florida would rally to finish 2nd in the East. At the time, that wasn’t looking too good. But now, the Gators swept Mississippi State (8-6, 9-3, 6-2) to pull back into the battle for the East. They’ll also finish with matchups with Mizzou and South Carolina, so that 2nd-place finish remains a very real possibility.
How are the Gators thriving? Keys have been competent pitching and a variety of offensive standouts. Against State, catcher BT Riopelle had a 4-for-4 day with 6 RBIs. Second baseman Sterlin Thompson had a big game Sunday, and with a .348 average and 41 RBIs, he’s become an under-the-radar star.
Given the schedule, if UF’s bullpen can hold, they’re in great shape. State, on the other hand, remains in the West basement and is probably approaching postseason elimination.
7. Too little too late for Rebels?
Ole Miss (finally) won its first home SEC series of the season, sweeping Missouri 7-5, 8-1 and 10-2. Does this mean that the Rebels could play their way back into postseason play? Given that they finish with a series at LSU and then hosting A&M, that seems exceedingly optimistic. Still, a tip of the hat to outfielder Kevin Graham, who put up a 5-for-5 day on Sunday on his way to 8 hits in the 3-game series.
8. Looking forward to big matchups
What are the 3 biggest series battles we’re looking forward to in the next-to-last week of the season? Well, how about UT and Georgia — will the Vols bounce back from the first series loss in what feels like an eternity or can Georgia get a good grasp on a first-round bye in Hoover?
Arkansas and Vandy looks pretty interesting, as the Commodores have a tough battle in their quest to pull back into the thick of the SEC postseason picture, and Arkansas has a chance to wrap up the SEC West title.
And a third series to watch is probably Alabama and Auburn. Auburn is battling to host a regional and Alabama is fighting for its postseason lives. Also — breaking news — those schools tend to not exactly love each other very much.
9. The NCAA big picture
Prior to the weekend’s play, Baseball America projected 8 SEC squads in the NCAA Tournament, with hosting bids going to UT, Georgia, Auburn, Arkansas and A&M. The other bids went to LSU, Vandy and Florida.
Baseball America had Florida as its next-to-last team in the field, in part due to their high RPI, with Alabama among the “first four out” and South Carolina in the “next four out.”
That leaves the two Mississippi schools, Kentucky and Missouri on the outside looking in. It’ll be interesting to see if Kentucky moves up into the fringes of the picture, and if Georgia’s hosting gig is in any jeopardy.