NCAA Baseball Tournament review and preview: A 6-2 day to open for the SEC, plus a look ahead
The SEC posted a 6-2 opening day to the NCAA Tournament, sometimes in fairly hair-raising fashion. Still, the league heads into Saturday in pretty good shape in their overall regional brackets. Here’s the quick breakdown on opening Friday:
Tennessee: Vols rolled 10-0 over Alabama State, with Blake Tidwell working 7 2/3 shutout innings and the Vols mashing 5 homers, including a pair from Jordan Beck. All as expected.
Texas A&M: Oral Roberts kept it respectable, trailing the Aggies 3-1 in the 7th before A&M broke open an 8-2 victory. Austin Bost had a homer and 4 RBIs; 5 Aggies added multiple hits.
Florida: The Gators similarly broke open their opener with Central Michigan late. It was 3-1 in the 8th, before UF went ahead with a 7-3 win. The big blow was a 2-run single from Jac Caglianone. Brandon Sproat gave the Gators 7 innings of 1 run work to pick up the win.
Auburn: An 11-run 1st inning took care of this one early, with the Tigers rolling 19-7. Not only did Cole Foster manage 3 homers for Auburn, but he hit 2 homers in the 1st inning, one from each side of the plate. Have a day, man.
Cole Foster with HR's from both sides of the plate in the first inning!! ARE. YOU. SERIOUS⁉️ ????
? ESPN+#RoadToOmaha x @AuburnBaseball pic.twitter.com/06kMcidZmI
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAABaseball) June 3, 2022
Arkansas: The Hogs jumped out to a 5-0 lead with a 4-run 2nd inning on their way to a cozy 7-1 win. Caden Wallace had a pair of homers and Connor Noland was sharp, with 7 innings of 6-hit, 1-run baseball for the victors.
LSU: Holy heart failure, Tigers. They fell behind Kennesaw State 11-4 in the 5th inning, and trailed by that same score until they posted a 10-run 8th inning to win 14-11. The encouraging thing about the rally? It was old school, no homers. Just walk, hit batter, single, single, double, single, single, walk, fielder’s choice, walk, double, walk, single. Devin Fontenot’s 3 1/3 innings of scoreless, 6-strikeout relief was a hidden key.
Vanderbilt: Not the start the Commodores wanted, falling behind San Diego 3-0 with 3 different single-run innings. The Commodores managed a run in the 7th and another in the 8th, but with 2 on, 2 out in the 9th, but Jack Bulger flew to right to end the 3-2 loss. Vandy had just 5 hits, and Carter Holton pitched well, but ended up on the short end of this one.
Georgia: This one was over early, with the Bulldogs giving up 3 first-inning runs to VCU en route to an 8-1 loss. Jonathan Cannon was hit hard, and only Cole Tate’s homer kept the Bulldogs from being shut out.
Previewing Saturday’s slate
Vandy and Georgia both face elimination games. UGA faces Hofstra, which dropped a 15-4 game to North Carolina. Hofstra’s 5.34 team ERA is good news for the Bulldogs. Vandy will face New Mexico State, which clawed to a tough 5-4 10-inning loss to top seed Oregon State. NMSU walked 8 batters, including the game-winner (yes, that’s a walk-off walk).
Meanwhile, Ole Miss won’t make its Tourney debut until Saturday after a weather delay in Miami, as they’ll face Arizona in a critical matchup. The Rebels are the SEC’s lone 3-seed in their region, and could use all the help they can get to get past Arizona and Miami.
The other 6 SEC squads get winners’ games, with half of them facing 1 vs. 2 seed matchups that look pivotal to determining the regional winner. That’s the situation for Florida, Arkansas and LSU. The Gators face 2 seed Oklahoma, which is rated higher than UF in 5 of the 6 major college baseball polls. OU hammered Liberty 16-3, and that figures to be perhaps the game of the day. Meanwhile, Arkansas and LSU are 2 seeds, with the Hogs facing Oklahoma State, who pulled away to a 10-5 win over Missouri State while saving their 2 best starting pitchers. LSU won a 14-11 slugfest and now gets Southern Miss, winners of a 2-0 pitcher’s duel over Army. Obviously, contrasting styles will compete in that one.
The SEC’s other 3 winners drew surprising matchups. UT gets 3 seed Campbell, which hammered Georgia Tech 15-8. Plenty of offense figures to be needed for Campbell to get past the Vols, with Chase Dollander, Chase Burns and Drew Beam all ready to go.
A&M also faces the 3 seed after Louisiana upset TCU 7-6, despite just 1 stolen base (in 3 attempts) for the Ragin’ Cajuns, who nabbed 136 bags on the season.
Finally, Auburn gets Florida State instead of UCLA after the Seminoles pulled off a 5-3 win. FSU’s bullpen allowed just a single hit in 4 innings of solid relief pitching.
Predictions for Saturday
Vandy survives, while UGA gets eliminated. Ole Miss also loses as its pitching struggles. On the winner’s side, Florida and Arkansas win again, with the Hogs pulling a low-scoring upset. LSU stumbles against Southern Miss. UT and A&M both cruise and Auburn comes from behind to edge out Florida State late. That’s a 6-3 second day for the SEC that would end with 8 teams still alive in the NCAA Tournament.