The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

SEC Baseball Tournament Blog: Friday

118 days ago
By Kevin Scarbinsky
Photo: Michael Wade

Welcome to the SEC Baseball Tournament Blog, your online home for the big news, behind-the-scenes notes and quotes and special moments that make this annual event at the Hoover (Ala.) Met the best college baseball tournament in the nation. Check back for updates each day throughout the week.

11:15 p.m.

And the fans just keep on coming

It's a fact of SEC life. LSU fans travel great distances to support their baseball program and Mississippi State fans do the same. So it should come as no surprise that their two meetings this week have contributed greatly to two of the largest crowds in SEC Tournament history.

Wednesday night, the two-game session in which Vanderbilt beat down Auburn and State outlasted LSU in 17 innings over 6 hours and 43 minutes attracted an audience of 13,902. It was the fifth-largest single game or session attendance in tournament history.

The fans, fueled again by the "Hail State" and "Geaux Tigers" contingents, outdid themselves Friday.

The two-game elimination session in which Ole Miss came back to beat Arkansas and LSU exacted revenge and then some on Mississippi State drew a crowd of 14,294. It was the fourth-largest single game or session attendance in tournament history.

The only larger crowds to show up at the Hoover Met for this event:

No. 1: 16,165 for the 1999 championship game, in which Alabama beat Arkansas.

No. 2: 14,427 for the 2003 double-header featuring Alabama over Auburn and LSU over Mississippi State.

No. 3: 14,390 for the 1998 game in which Auburn beat Alabama.

In short, Friday's crowd was the largest in tournament history that didn't include in-state schools Alabama or Auburn or both. That tells you this event matters to a lot of people in the state of Alabama and beyond who don't all cheer for the Tide or Tigers.

Saturday's Schedule

  • Noon -- Game 15: No. 3 seed Georgia vs. No. 7 Ole Miss
  • 30 minutes after Game 15 -- Game 16: No. 1 Vanderbilt vs. No. 5 LSU

11:00 p.m.

Don't weep for Mississippi State

The game plan didn't include SEC Freshman Pitcher of the Year JT Ginn giving up four hits and five runs, four of them earned, in 2.1 innings. It was just the third time this year Ginn had allowed four earned runs.

The plan didn't include letting LSU score more runs in two innings than Mississippi State had allowed in any single game since April 19th.

Nor did it include getting run-ruled at the SEC Tournament for just the second time since the event moved to a 12-team format in 2013.

What happened Friday was all unfamiliar territory, but don't weep for State.

Sure, the Bulldogs weren't thrilled to lose to LSU 12-2 to end their stay in Hoover, but they have more than enough reasons to believe there are better things ahead starting next week when they host an NCAA regional.

"It was just one of those days," State coach Chris Lemonis said. "We've bounced back all year long. We'll be fine."

He didn't lie about his team's track record of rebounding from desultory defeats. State lost back-to-back games to LSU 10-5 and 11-2 in March, then won eight of its next nine games. The Bulldogs got swept at Arkansas in April, with the final two non-competitive margins of 12-5 and 10-2. They then reeled off 13 wins in their next 14 games.

"We've just got to regroup," Lemonis said. Given that the Bullies are the No. 3 team in the nation according to USA Today, chances are good they will.

10:30 p.m.

Well that escalated quickly for LSU

No one saw that coming, least of all Paul Mainieri. The LSU coach watched his hitters go quietly through the first two innings Friday against Mississippi State, continuing the theme of this SEC Tournament.

"The first six at-bats we had were as non-competitive as you can have," Mainieri said. "We couldn't get a sniff."

Those first six at-bats produced four strikeouts, a groundout and a popup. Then ... Boom! Mardi Gras in May.

After 12 of the week's first 13 games were decided by one or two runs, after a humbling parade of pitching duels, the Tigers blew the lid off the game and the entire tournament. They rang up five runs in the third inning and seven more in the fourth. It was all they needed to run-rule Mississippi State 12-2, excuse the Bulldogs from the rest of the event and send everyone home after seven innings.

How rare was that offensive explosion? LSU scored 12 runs in two innings. The eight teams who played Thursday combined for 13 runs over four games.

"Hitting is contagious," Mainieri said. "You get a couple big hits and everybody goes up there nice and loose."

He means everybody. In the third inning, LSU sent 11 men to the plate. Eight of them reached base on four hits, three walks and an error. Five of them scored, and the inning ended with the bases loaded.

The fun, if you spell go "geaux," had just begun.

In the fourth, LSU sent 12 men to the plate. Nine of them reached base on six hits, two walks and an error. Seven of them scored, and the inning ended with two aboard.

State used five different pitchers in those two innings. It was like watching the Chicago Cubs against the Bad News Bears. And to think this carnival occurred a day after LSU's two-run wild-pitch walk-off win over Auburn and two days after State outlasted LSU in 17 innings.

"I'm not surprised by anything anymore," Mainieri said. "This tournament always seems to bring out the best in us."

This fireworks show brought the Tigers to Saturday's second semifinal against Vanderbilt, in search of their league-leading 13th SEC Tournament title.

7:50 p.m.

Time for the ripping Razorbacks to relocate their rakes

How well has Arkansas hit the baseball this season? So well that when you watch the Hogs rake on tape as an opposing coach, Georgia's Scott Stricklin said, "it makes you nauseous."

Consider everyone woozy, then, to see the No. 4 team in America headed home to prepare to host an NCAA regional as a top-eight national seed because their bats weren't feeling too well in Hoover.

For the third time in three games here - and the fourth straight game counting the regular-season finale - those potent Arkansas bats managed just five hits in a 3-2 elimination loss to Ole Miss. The Hogs scored a meager eight runs total in their three games at the SEC Tournament.

By comparison, they scored eight runs or more in 12 of their 30 SEC regular-season games. For a team that "can steamroll you pretty quick," as coach Dave Van Horn said, this power outage has to create some concern.

"There is a concern," Van Horn said. "If we don't hit and score, we're not going to win. That's obvious."

Van Horn attributed the quiet bats to a combination of fatigue and outstanding pitching. His team's been on the road for more than a week after closing the regular season at Texas A&M, and dominant arms all around have owned the week in Hoover.

"It'll be good for us to get home and relax a bit," Van Horn said. "We'll be fine."

Matt Goodheart, who had two hits and drove in both Arkansas runs Friday with a towering two-run home run to the deepest part of the Hoover Met, offered some reassurance that this lull is only temporary.

"I know what this team is capable of doing," he said. "We can really swing the bats when things click."

7:20 p.m.

Ole Miss goes to school on a great fastball

Baseball's a game of matchups and moments. Two days ago, Arkansas closer Matt Cronin matched up with Ole Miss and blew the Rebels away. He struck out all four batters he faced to earn his 11th save.

So when the moment arrived in Friday's rematch, with two on and one out and the Hogs holding a one-run lead in the eighth, Ole Miss cleanup man turned leadoff hitter Thomas Dillard knew who and what was coming.

Cronin and his fastball, which Dillard said might be "the best in the country. He's blown it by me a few times."

The last time was two days ago in the ninth inning.

As Arkansas made the call to the bullpen, Dillard didn't even wait to see who he would face. The switch-hitter headed straight back to the dugout to get his right-handed helmet and Evoshield. Thus armed physically and mentally, Dillard dug in and did what most hitters do against the lefty with the lightning. As Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, "They cheat to his fastball."

"If anything, I was going to pull it into their dugout," Dillard said. "I was not going to be late."

He wasn't. On Cronin's first pitch, a knee-high heater, Dillard was right on time, roping a single to center field to tie the game and send the potential go-ahead run to third.

The next hitter, Grae Kessinger, also had gone down swinging Wednesday against Cronin. This time, he followed Dillard's lead and shot a line-drive sacrifice fly to center, delivering what would be the winning run for Ole Miss in a 3-2 victory. Like Dillard, Kessinger got a fastball down, which - relatively speaking - is easier to handle than Cronin's explosive heat up in the zone.

So Cronin won the Wednesday stare-down with the Rebels. They won the bigger Friday showdown to advance to Saturday's semifinals against Georgia while the Razorbacks headed home. That's baseball, especially in the uber-competitive SEC.

"Both of those were good pitches," Van Horn said. "Those guys (Dillard and Kessinger) are veterans. Those are their dudes. They may have learned something the last time they faced him. It's only been 48 hours."

The best college baseball players don't just go to class. They go to school.

1:50 p.m.

How to throw the Georgia Bulldogs a bone

Scott Stricklin clearly knows how to motivate college baseball players. Before leaving Athens for Hoover, he told his Georgia players he was tired of seeing news of the program's eight-game SEC Tournament losing streak on the SEC Network.

What did the third-seeded Bulldogs do? They went out Wednesday and won a conference tournament game for the first time since 2011, beating Texas A&M 2-0 with a walkoff home run from junior shortstop Cam Shepherd.

After the stick approach worked, Stricklin found a simple carrot to dangle in front of his players before their Thursday matchup with No. 2 seed Arkansas.

"The carrot I threw out in front of them before the game was, 'Hey, we're playing for a day off. Let's play for a day off. We can get to rest and relax Friday,' " Stricklin said.

Mission accomplished. By shutting down Arkansas 3-1 to improve to 2-0 in Hoover, Georgia earned today off and advanced to a Saturday noon semifinal against today's Ole Miss-Arkansas winner.

The other 2-0 team here is regular-season champion Vanderbilt. The Commodores also will enjoy a day off today to await the LSU-Mississippi State winner in Saturday's second semifinal.

Tim Corbin's crew might not need the break, though. The Vandy Boys, ranked second in the nation, have won 20 of their last 21 games. Their only loss since April 14th came May 11th against Missouri.