SEC Tournament review and preview: Gray skies, drama dominate opening day
The first day of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama was an exercise in persistence. With 3 separate weather delays, the full day of scheduled games didn’t even survive the early afternoon. That said, the baseball that was sprinkled between cloudbursts was worthy of the postseason.
No. 11 seed Alabama prolonged its season by opening with an upset of No. 6 seed Georgia. UGA starter Luke Wagner was rudely greeted by the Tide, who waited through a 35-minute delay before the first pitch and then jumped on Wagner for 3 runs in the 1st inning and 2 more in the 2nd. The Tide’s punch took the form of manufactured runs, with the only extra-base hit being leadoff batter Caden Rose’s double to open the game. Staked to a 5-0 lead, Alabama starter Garrett McMillan completed just 2 innings before a 2-hour, 6-minute weather delay ended his appearance. Bama got a superb relief outing from Ben Hess, who fanned 10 Georgia hitters in 4 1/3 innings, ultimately helping the Tide hang on for a 5-3 win and earn a matchup with Arkansas.
B6 | Hess retires them in order once again, ending the inning with his season-high tying ninth K of the day ⛽️ (? https://t.co/S40u44cKjd)
5-1 Alabama#RollTide pic.twitter.com/YbR1LIpHGt
— Alabama Baseball (@AlabamaBSB) May 24, 2022
Immediately after that game, another weather delay pushed back No. 10 seed South Carolina and No. 7 seed Florida. Once that game started, it was a battle of superb starting pitching. South Carolina’s Will Sanders allowed 4 hits and struck out 10 batters in 7 innings but left with a 1-0 deficit courtesy of a 4th-inning error. Florida’s Brandon Sproat was even better, flirting with a complete game before departing with 1 out in the 9th inning after a pair of singles put the tying run on third base. Sproat allowed 4 hits and fanned 7, but Carolina scratched out a ground ball to tie the game at 1 and send it to extra innings. In the 10th inning, Florida’s Ty Evans doubled off the third-base bag and then missed a golden chance to end the game when he froze a third of the way down the baseline on a single from Kendrick Calilao. He then scored the winning run on a shallow line drive from Colby Halter. The throw beat Evans, but the South Carolina catcher dropped the ball and the Gators nabbed a 2-1 10th inning victory, and a matchup with Texas A&M.
HALTER WITH THE WALK-OFF! ? pic.twitter.com/1lFG2earx2
— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) May 25, 2022
The Vandy/Ole Miss game was not terribly unlike the game before it. Vandy’s Carter Holton continued his emergence as the ace of their staff, working 6 scoreless innings as the Commodores manufactured a trio of runs — one on a Dominic Keegan single, one on an infield grounder and one on a Rebels error. After Holton departed, the Rebels did draw within 3-1 on a Justin Bench 7th-inning single, but they drew no closer, as Christian Little shut the door for Vandy with 4 strikeouts in 2 innings. In the careful-what-you-wish-for department, Vandy will advance to face Tennessee.
Final line for @carterholton19 ⤵️
6 K#VandyBoys pic.twitter.com/9oegZwC88q
— Vanderbilt Baseball (@VandyBoys) May 25, 2022
Here’s a quick thought on Wednesday’s matchups.
No. 12 Kentucky vs. No. 5 Auburn: This is the last first-round game, which was bumped to Wednesday by the weather. Kentucky just beat Auburn in a series to end the regular season, in large part because the UK pitching staff kept Auburn in the ballpark. The Wildcats have played well late in the season, and if they get ahead, it could be interesting. That said, Sonny DiChiara and the Tigers could end this one early. The winner faces LSU on Thursday morning.
No. 11 Alabama vs. No. 3 Arkansas: Likewise, the Tide just bested Arkansas in a season-ending series, and after playing from ahead against Georgia, Alabama would love to work its way into the NCAA Tournament conversation — and another win over Arkansas would contribute. Brad Bohannan said the Tide would likely throw Jacob McNairy on Wednesday, and while he did beat Arkansas last Friday, it wasn’t a particularly sharp game. Connor Noland faced McNairy then, but Arkansas may elect for Will McEntire on Wednesday. For a No. 3 seed, Arkansas is not an exceptionally dominant team and Alabama would love to stay in this game late into Wednesday afternoon.
No. 7 Florida vs. No. 2 Texas A&M: The Gators and the Aggies haven’t played this season. UF is likely going to one of the young guys, probably freshman Brandon Neely. This would be a spot for Hunter Barco, but of course, he’s gone for the season. The Gators will need more than 2 runs on Wednesday. They got a start for the ages from Sprout, but they can’t count on that again against the Aggies. Meanwhile, A&M has had a great season being the underdog. Can guys like Austin Bost and Dylan Rock put together enough offense to carry the day?
No. 8 Vanderbilt vs. No. 1 Tennessee: It was a sweep of Vandy in the beginning of April that served notice to college baseball that UT was the real deal. The Vols are a juggernaut, but it’ll be a new experience for some of the young guns in their rotation in Hoover.
Tennessee hasn’t been intimidated by anything all year, but it’ll be interesting to see how going to Hoover with a target on their back impacts the Vols. The interesting thing was that Tuesday’s games were all pitching duels really — nobody scored more than 5 runs and the 3 losing teams combined for a total of 5 runs.
When UT swept Vandy in Nashville in April, they allowed 4 runs in 3 games. So basically, Vandy needs to replicate Carter Holton’s big day on Tuesday with another outstanding start on Wednesday.
Auburn, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee (if they get to play all the games).