Two big series helped to begin shaping the final standings at the top of both the East and West Divisions in the SEC. Here’s how it happened.
Florida at Kentucky
After losing their first weekend series of the year last week, Kentucky promptly dropped its second. The Wildcats lost the first two games of the three-game series with Florida before scratching out a victory in the final game on Saturday.
Thursday’s game saw the Gators jump out to a four run lead after three innings. Florida scored one in the first inning before hanging three on the scoreboard in the third. Gators Josh Tobias, Nolan Fontana, Preston Tucker, and Brian Johnson all singled in the third to make the margin four. Kentucky inched closer when Cameron Flynn produced an RBI double in the fifth and designated hitter Michael Williams hit a two-run homerun in the seventh. But the Wildcats’ rally would fall short as Florida added an insurance run in the ninth bringing the final score to 5-3, giving the Gators an advantage in the crucial series.
The second game of the series was a pitcher’s duel for most of the afternoon. Both teams plated a run in the first inning before the defenses combined to hold the score line steady at 1-1 through the seventh. Florida freshman Casey Turgeon led off the eighth inning with his second triple of the year to right field. Josh Tobias singled him in two batters later to give the Gators a one-run lead. In the ninth inning, Florida added three more runs on sacrifice flies by Brian Johnson and Justin Shafer and an RBI single by pinch hitter Jeff Moyer giving the Gators a series-clinching victory by a margin of 5-1. Florida used four pitchers to shut down the Wildcat offense with starter Karsten Whitson giving up six of the eight hits in his 4.2 innings of work.
Kentucky was able to salvage a victory in the finale Saturday in a low-scoring affair. Kentucky starter Corey Littrell threw eight strong innings scattering nine hits while striking out five with no walks. Trevor Gott earned his ninth save of the year setting a new single-season record for saves at Kentucky. The Wildcats got on the board first with a run in the fifth inning when Matt Reida returned a ball up the middle with two outs for an RBI single. Kentucky added another run in the eighth when Luke Maile earned an RBI of his own. The Gators tried to mount a rally in the ninth when Daniel Pigott led off the inning with a solo homerun that ended Littrell’s bid for a complete game. The Gators were unable to complete the comeback, though they had the tying run on base, and the game ended 2-1 in favor of the Wildcats.
South Carolina at Arkansas
South Carolina was able to knock around the best pitching staff in the conference as the two teams scored 44 runs over the three game series in Fayetteville. In the end, the Gamecocks would emerge from the slugfest with a series victory and sole possession of first place in the Eastern Division.
Things looked to be in the Razorback’s favor as Friday night’s game opened with the home team scoring runs in the first three innings while keeping the Gamecocks off the board. Arkansas scored three runs in the first, two in the second and one in the third to jump out to a 6-0 lead. The Hogs’ pitching staff couldn’t hold the lead, though. South Carolina scored three runs in the fourth inning and three more in the sixth to tie the score. The score remained knotted, sending the game into extra innings. Carolina’s Joey Pankake reached on a single in the 10th and was able to advance on a throwing error by shortstop Tim Carver. Evan Marzilli brought Pankake home on an RBI double. Marzilli scored on a single from Grayson Greiner, who had homered in the fifth to bring the Gamecocks to within a run. The Razorbacks were unable to close the gap in the bottom of the inning, and South Carolina took the game 8-6.
Arkansas earned a one-run victory in the second game as the two teams fought back and forth on Saturday. The two teams combined to use 10 pitchers in the game as neither was able to stymie the other’s offense. Trailing 7-5 in the top of the ninth inning, South Carolina was able to get the tying run on base when pinch hitter Kyle Martin produced a two-out RBI single scoring Joel Seddon. Barrett Astin was able to shut the door on the would-be rally, though, when he struck out right fielder Tanner English to end the game and tie the series by a final score of 7-6.
The rubber match looked to be a total reversal of the previous two games as the two teams held both offenses in check through six innings allowing no runs. The scoreless tie was broken in the seventh inning when South Carolina unleashed its pent up offense and plated four runs in the top half of the frame. With runners on first and second and two outs, the Gamecocks used consecutive hits by Adam Matthews, Chase Vergason, and Tanner English to go ahead of the Hogs. Arkansas responded in the bottom of the inning by putting together four consecutive hits to open their half before scoring three runs on RBIs by Jacob Morris and Jacob Mahan. With the score standing at 4-3, the Gamecocks would effectively put the Hogs away with six runs in the top of the eighth. Grayson Greiner opened the scoring with a bases-loaded, two-RBI single. Michael Roth and English would also earn RBIs as South Carolina went up 10-3. The Razorbacks tried to mount a rally, scoring two runs in the eighth and two more in the ninth, but the mountain was insurmountable and the Gamecocks took the game and the series with a final score of 10-7.
Mississippi State at Alabama
Mississippi State continued its winning ways as the Bulldogs took moved into second place in the West with a hard-fought series win over Alabama.
Mississippi State ace Chris Stratton turned in another clinical performance in Friday’s opening game. Stratton pitched seven scoreless innings, scattering seven hits while striking out six and giving up no walks to earn his ninth victory of the season. The Bulldogs notched one run in the fourth and two more in the fifth to take a 3-0 lead into the eighth inning. The Tide tried to make it interesting as Ben Moore earned an RBI on a single that scored Taylor Dugas. That would be all the runs Alabama could muster, though, and Mississippi State took the opening game 3-1.
Mississippi State earned the series victory in another defensive struggle on Saturday. The Bulldogs used five pitchers in their effort as they held the Tide offense to two runs on eight hits. For the second game in a row, Alabama outhit Mississippi State, but was unable to convert those hits into enough runs to push ahead.
After combining to score only nine runs in the first two games the offenses took center stage as Alabama edged Mississippi State 8-7 on Sunday. Taylor Dugas led the Tide hitters with a 2-for-3 day, notching four RBIs and scoring a run. Andrew Miller also went 2-for-3 with two runs and an RBI. Alabama led the game 6-2 going into the eighth inning. The Bulldogs would not be discouraged though and put up three runs in the eighth. Trailing by only a single run, Mississippi State took its first lead of the day with two runs in the ninth. Alabama took to the plate in the bottom of ninth looking to avoid its third sweep in its last four SEC series. Mississippi State reliever Nick Routt was able to get the first two batters to ground out before Jared Reaves began the rally with a single. Reaves was lifted in favor of pinch runner Hunter Gregory. Ben Moore followed Reaves’ example and reached on a single of his own. The Bulldogs elected to lift Routt for Taylor Stark. On a 2-1 pitch from Stark, Austen Smith drove in Gregory and Moore with a walk-off double, staving off the sweep for Alabama.
Vanderbilt at Tennessee
In a matchup of in-state rivals, Vanderbilt was able to recover from an opening game setback to earn a series victory over Tennessee in Knoxville.
In a series decided by offense, it was the Vols who let loose in the first game. Tennessee starter Nick Williams earned his third win of the year as he threw 8.2 innings allowing two runs on six hits while striking out eight and giving up only two free passes. The Vols were paced at the plate by right fielder Drew Steckenrider who went 4-for-5 with four RBIs and one run. Catcher Ethan Bennett added two RBIs of his own. After giving up single runs in each of the first two innings, Williams put up goose eggs the rest of the way while the offense provided plenty of run support scoring eight on 10 hits for a final of 8-2.
Vanderbilt was able to withstand three fielding miscues and an attempted rally by the Vols to even the series on Saturday. Connor Harrell led the way for Commodores’ offense with three hits, two runs, and an RBI, including a solo homerun in the eighth. Conrad Gregor had three hits for Vanderbilt as well, adding two RBIs for good measure. Leading 7-2 in the bottom of the ninth, the Commodores had to withstand an attempted rally as the Vols pushed across two runs. The lead was too large, though, Vanderbilt took the game 7-4.
Vanderbilt put together a consistent offensive performance, scoring at least one run in all but one inning on Sunday. For the first three innings, it seemed that Tennessee was going to keep pace with their rivals. After scoring two runs in the first two innings, the Vols surged ahead with four runs in the third to take a 6-3 lead. But Tennessee couldn’t keep the scoring frenzy going and were held in check the rest of the afternoon. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, scored a single run in each of the first three innings. The Commodore offense was unable to put a run across in the fourth, but scored at least one in each of the next five innings with single runs in the fifth and eighth, two runs each in the sixth and ninth, and three runs in seventh. In all Vanderbilt scored nine unanswered runs after trailing to take the clinching game of the series 12-6.
Auburn at Georgia
Georgia earned an uplifting series sweep against Auburn, helping to further solidify their hopes of earning an SEC Tournament berth. Auburn, on the other, looks in danger of dropping out of contention for a spot at the Met as they have dropped four of their last five SEC series.
Georgia rode a strong starting pitching performance from Alex Wood to a 5-2 victory in the series opener. Wood turned in eight innings Friday night, striking out 10 while only allowing four hits and three walks. The Auburn staff was able to hold Georgia in check until the sixth inning. The Tigers’ pitchers had difficulty finding the strike zone in the sixth as they walked four and hit a batter. Georgia scored four runs in the inning, and that effectively sealed Auburn’s fate as the Tigers could only muster one more run.
Auburn was nearly able to pick up the win in an extra inning affair on Saturday. With the score tied at four after ten innings, the Tigers plated a run in the top of the 11th. The Tigers had three errors in the game, but were able to withstand the miscues until the bottom of the 11th. Georgia’s Curt Powell hit into a fielder’s choice that scored Jonathan Hester. Powell reached base after the Tigers committed their third error of the game. The error would prove costly as Kyle Farmer followed Powell with a walk-off single to end the game and clinch the series for the Bulldogs, 6-5.
Georgia left little doubt about the outcome of Sunday’s game scoring five runs in the first two innings, and Auburn just couldn’t find the offense to mount a comeback. The Bulldog pitching staff combined for seven strikeouts with only one walk. Georgia was led at the plate by Curt Powell who went 3-for-5 with an RBI and three runs.
Arkansas’ loss puts them four games back of LSU in the race for the top spot in the West with only six games left. It would have been difficult for the Hogs to catch the Tigers even if they had picked up the win against South Carolina, but now Arkansas would need a small miracle to secure a bye in the opening round of the SEC Tournament.
South Carolina sits atop the Eastern Division tied with LSU for the overall lead in the conference. The Gamecocks hold a one game lead over Kentucky and a two game cushion on Florida. South Carolina ends the season at home against LSU in what could be a winner-take-all series for the SEC regular season crown.
Mississippi State and Auburn are going in opposite directions. After starting the SEC season at 3-6, the Bulldogs have suddenly gotten hot, moving into a tie for second place in the West with Arkansas. The Tigers, on the other hand, began conference play with a 6-3 record, but have won only four games since then. Auburn is in 10th place in the league, clinging to the last spot in the Tournament by two games over Tennessee.
Topics: Alabama Crimson Tide, Arkansas Razorbacks, Auburn Tigers, College Baseball, Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky Wildcats, LSU, LSU Sports, LSU Tigers, Mississippi State, SEC, SEC Baseball, South Carolina Gamecocks, Tennessee Volunteers, Vanderbilt Commodores