Lesson from Omaha? Only SEC teams are good enough to beat SEC teams in CWS
Those who would argue against the SEC’s dominance in college baseball would say that the league just feeds off itself — that somebody has to win all those conference games, and whoever it is, they’re pretty much self-determined to look good.
Don’t look now, but 4 of the 6 remaining teams in the College World Series are from the SEC, with 3 trying to stave off elimination Tuesday. Monday’s results guaranteed an SEC team in the CWS finals, and by Tuesday night, the SEC could have 3 of the 4 semifinalists — meaning another all-SEC finals could be in play.
The chance to gain on the rest of the country would include a certain measure of conference revenge. Notre Dame, fresh off toppling UT in the Knoxville Super Regional, will face Texas A&M in an elimination game Tuesday (2 p.m., ET, ESPN). A&M was off-kilter in an ugly 13-8 loss to Oklahoma in the opener but rebounded with 10 unanswered runs to eliminate in-state rival Texas 10-2 and extend their CWS stay. The Aggies are perhaps the most dangerous come-from-behind team in America, boasting 27 wins in games they trailed. Meanwhile Notre Dame, which shocked the world by outslugging Tennessee, fell to Oklahoma 6-2 in exactly the sort of game that could down the Irish. The Irish were held to 7 hits, including a single extra-base hit, and watched their second-best starter, Austin Temple, struggle to find the plate, and get pulled in the 2nd inning.
Both teams have blown through their best starters, and A&M seems like they’d be a heavy favorite in a slugfest, but as Tennessee could attest, Notre Dame can be a dangerous team backed up to a wall.
Tuesday’s other elimination game will feature two SEC squads: Arkansas vs. Auburn (7 p.m., ET, ESPN). The winner gets another shot at Ole Miss but would have to beat the Rebels twice to make the best-of-3 CWS finals.
If someone had forecast that one SEC team would blow through its bracket to nab a semifinal berth, Ole Miss would not have been the primary suspect. But the Rebels will be sitting and watching as the Hogs and Tigers battle for a semifinal slot. The Rebels only need to win 1 more to get to the finals.
Arkansas, after decimating Stanford 17-2, fell flat against Ole Miss on Monday. For 2 innings, the squads traded punches, with Arkansas trailing just 4-3. But from there, the Rebels put up the next 9 runs in the 13-5 shellacking. Hagen Smith will take the ball for Arkansas in their Auburn matchup.
The Tigers, who admitted to fighting a particularly vicious stomach bug this week in Omaha, picked up a win over Stanford to eliminate the Cardinal, 6-2. Auburn trailed early but took control with a 4-run 6th inning that changed the tide. Stanford brought the tying run to the plate in the 7th inning, but Auburn fireman Blake Burkhalter, as he did in the Super Regionals, closed the door by getting the last several outs: in this case 7 (5 by strikeout). The Tigers have Mason Burnett ready to pitch on Tuesday. He lost to Arkansas on May 6, but if he can keep Auburn alive, their rotation should hold together well moving forward.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss has already beaten Auburn and Arkansas in Omaha. The Rebels will get the winner in an all-SEC semifinal showdown Wednesday. If Texas A&M also wins Tuesday, the league still has a chance to produce another all-SEC Finals — just like last year.
Tuesday in Omaha is destined to be an SEC day of survival, but then again, 4 teams from a single SEC division have fought to the final pitch all season — so why would Tuesday be any different?