9 Innings: SEC baseball's Opening Weekend in review
Baseball is back, and while temperatures plunged across most of the nation, 12/14ths of the SEC managed to get their schedules underway. (Vanderbilt delayed its opening series until Monday.) There was plenty to digest, so here are 9 takeaways from Opening Weekend in the SEC.
1. Florida has a great ballpark … but has to pitch better
Yes, Gator Nation, the season-opening series against Miami gave us a look at the new McKethan Field, which appears to be state of the art. Opening the new facility in a highlight series as the No. 1 team in the nation is an outstanding tribute to Florida baseball, and the Gators looked strong at the plate … but the pitching was problematic.
The key number: 25 walks in 3 games. All 11 Gators pitchers who appeared in the opening series walked at least 1 batter. That’s the biggest reason the Gators lost 2 of 3 to the Canes.
The Gators fell to No. 7 in Baseball America’s Top 25 poll after starting 1-2. All credit due to the Gators for opening strong instead of playing Prairie View Agricultural or somebody like that. But the Gators gave up 23 runs in 3 games, largely as a result of an inefficient bullpen and a failure of the UF starters to work deeper into the game.
Tommy Mace did a great job pitching out of trouble in the opener, but the UF bullpen struggled in the first 2 games, only for Miami to drop an 8-0 lead on the Gators in the rubber match. It’s early and there’s no need to overreact, but UF has to get better on the bump.
This is hard to watch. Florida entered the 9th with an 8-5 lead and sent Franco Aleman back out to try to finish it. Five walks and an HBP later, and this game is tied 8-8, and Miami still has bases loaded. Canes do not have a hit in this 3-run (so far) inning.
— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) February 20, 2021
2. Ole Miss jumps to No. 1
The Rebels are 2-0 in the Big 12 showdown and replaced Florida at the top of BA’s Top 25. They beat then-No. 10 TCU 7-3 and edged then-No. 3 Texas Tech 5-4 Sunday. They face Texas later Monday afternoon. John Rhys Plumlee came off the bench and scored a run for the Rebels.
Rebels pitchers struck out 29 batters in the first 2 games.
Other SEC teams in this week’s BA Top 25 (which is released every Monday morning): No. 4 Vanderbilt, No. 6 Arkansas, No. 7 Florida, No. 8 Mississippi State, No. 13 LSU, No. 16 South Carolina, No. 17 Tennessee, No. 22 Alabama.
3. The showdown with the Big 12 off to a pretty good start
Arkansas and Mississippi State joined Ole Miss in a 6-team event taking on TCU, Texas Tech and Texas in Arlington. All 6 teams opened up the season in the top 11 in the national USA Today poll. After an unbeaten Saturday, the Big 12 did pull off a 3-2 win with TCU over Mississippi State, but the SEC went 5-1 in the event before Monday’s final round of games, and showed out well to open.
4. MSU standout on the hill
Mississippi State righty Landon Sims moved his name well up the list of tough SEC pitching prospects. Sims pitched just 13 innings last season before COVID shortened the season. In State’s opener on Friday, he came out of the bullpen after lefty Christian MacLeod scattered 6 hits over 4 innings. Sims had no such issues. In his 4 perfect frames, Sims fanned 10 of the 12 batters he faced, earning the win as Texas ended up whiffing 18 times against 4 MSU pitchers.
Tough to do better than Landon Sims today.
He entered with bases loaded, no outs.
Three straight strikeouts.
And it only got better. He finished with 10 K’s in 4 innings 😳
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) February 20, 2021
5. Easy does it for Bama, UT, Auburn, South Carolina
Outside of big-time competition, there were plenty of SEC teams that opened against somewhat lighter foes … and got the wins they expected. The four teams above meet those criteria, as Bama handled McNeese State, UT held off Georgia Southern, Auburn beat Presbyterian, and Carolina took care of Dayton.
A few highlights? For one, Bama’s Zane Denton hitting .583 with a walk-off homer on Saturday, and Tide ace Connor Prielipp running his scoreless inning streak to 26 with a strong outing in the opener. Tennessee’s bullpen gave up just 2 runs in 14 2/3 innings. Auburn allowed just 5 runs in their 3-game series. Meanwhile, South Carolina’s Wes Clarke opened strong, emerging from the first series with a .700 batting average, 3 home runs and 9 RBIs.
[📹: South Carolina Baseball]
— D1Baseball (@d1baseball) February 21, 2021
6. Jaden Hill dominates, but LSU, UGA suffer losses in series
LSU and Georgia faced surprisingly tough competition from Evansville and Air Force, respectively. Georgia dropped the opener to the Purple Aces but rallied to take the next 3 games, but the entire series was competitive. Georgia was nasty at times on the mound, 1-hitting Evansville in the finale, but also allowing 10 walks in the game. Again, it’s still very, very early.
Similarly, LSU split a pair of games with Air Force.
Elite draft prospect Jaden Hill dominated in the opener, throwing 4 scoreless innings and striking out 5 in a 6-1 win. LSU dropped Sunday’s game 6-5. It’s too early for struggles to be too significant, but both squads could have done better with the bats.
7. Brutal series losses for Mizzou, A&M
Missouri is generally ranked near the bottom of the SEC, so the Tigers starting 1-3 against Grand Canyon isn’t entirely shocking. Getting outscored in the series 36-17 isn’t a good sign, though. Meanwhile, A&M started 1-2 against Xavier. They did exact a measure of revenge with a 15-0 win Sunday, in the kind of game that lets everybody gets some experience. Still, the Aggies had just 10 total hits in the first two games of a pretty poor opening series.
8. No action for Vandy
Meanwhile, the Vandy Boys were snowed/iced out of their opening set with Wright State, delaying the debuts of aces Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter. They rescheduled a doubleheader Monday before the Commodores move on to play Western Kentucky. It should be smooth sledding for Vandy until a weekend series with Oklahoma State in 2 weeks.
9. COVID blues for Kentucky
UK’s planned series with North Carolina was scratched due to COVID issues within the Kentucky program. The Wildcats will open Tuesday against Miami of Ohio, and should face a light nonconference schedule, assuming they’re healthy soon.