Mississippi State's Chris Stratton/Secdigitalnetwork.com

SEC Baseball Weekend Preview

The final weekend of the regular season is here. With the participants in this year’s SEC Tournament set last weekend, there won’t be much dramatics with tickets for Hoover being punched on the last day of the season. There will be a lot of drama at the top of the standings, though, as the race for the regular season crown will be decided between four teams.

Kentucky at Mississippi State

Kentucky holds the overall lead in the conference by a half game over Eastern Division foe South Carolina and a full game over West-leading LSU. The Wildcats travel to Starkville this weekend to face a Bulldog team that got off to a slow start, but have won four of their last six conference series to put themselves in a tie for third place in the West. The Bulldogs will be looking to stave off finishing below .500 in the conference in hopes of securing at least an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Once again, Mississippi State’s pitching staff will be key to the Bulldogs success as Kentucky has one of the best offensive teams in the conference.

Florida at Auburn

After being ranked at the top of all the national polls to open the season, Florida was unable to continue the kind of dominance they showed early in the season as the injury bug and toughest conference in the country took their toll on the Gators. Sitting at 16-11 in conference, Florida is only two games back of league-leading Kentucky with a chance of making up the ground to claim the regular season. The Gators travel to Auburn who earned the final spot in Hoover last weekend with an impressive series win against Arkansas. Florida is coming an impressive two-week stretch that saw them topple Kentucky and Mississippi State. The Gators need help to finish atop the standings in the East let alone the conference, though.

Ole Miss at Vanderbilt

The Rebels and Commodores have both secured spots in the tournament, and are now battling for seeding with their divisional foes. Ole Miss has surged into sole possession of second place in the West with a one game lead over Mississippi State and Arkansas. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, currently sits in the final spot in the East, but only a half game back of fourth place Georgia. If Vanderbilt hopes to improve its positioning heading into Hoover, its pitching staff will have to find a way to stunt the offensive prowess of the Rebels. Ole Miss has the second-best batting average in the league with West Monroe native Zach Kirksey tied for the most homeruns at 12. The Commodores pitching staff ranks 11th in the conference with a 4.30 ERA. If the Rebels can continue to hit the ball well, they should have a good chance at maintaining their position in the West.

Arkansas at Tennessee

With Tennessee already excluded from the SEC Tournament, it will be interesting to see if the Vols have already turned their attention to preparing for next season. Arkansas is currently tied with Mississippi State for third place in the West, but hold the tiebreaker with the Bulldogs. The Razorbacks will look to regain momentum heading into the tournament after dropping a hard-fought series to Auburn last weekend. After leading the league in pitching for much of the season, the Hogs have seen their ERA climb by 20 points over the last couple of weeks. If Arkansas can take advantage of a weak hitting Tennessee club, it could give them the confidence necessary to make some noise in Hoover.

Georgia at Alabama

There hasn’t been much joy in Tuscaloosa this spring as the Tide raced to the bottom of the league standings. A series win to end the season could give the pachyderms something to look forward to for next year. The Bulldogs, for their part, are looking to stay ahead of Vanderbilt over whom they currently hold a half game lead in the East.

All the games this weekend are Thursday-Saturday affairs to give the tournament participants time to travel to Hoover for the first round of games on Tuesday. Unlike previous years, the 2012 installment of the SEC Tournament will feature 10 teams and start a day earlier than normal, running Tuesday-Sunday. The new format is in anticipation of next year’s expansion to 14 teams.

Tags: Alabama Crimson Tide Arkansas Razorbacks Auburn Tigers College Baseball Florida Gators Georiga Bulldogs Kentucky Wildcats Mississippi State Bulldogs Ole Miss Rebels SEC SEC Baseball SEC Tournament Tennessee Volunteers Vanderbilt Commodores

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