story by Chris Rushing
Follow me on Twitter: @rushicw
Last weekend, we passed the halfway point in the Southeastern Conference baseball season. If the SEC Tournament were held today, only Mississippi State and Alabama would miss the 10-team field in Hoover. However, both teams are within two games of a bid to participate in Regions Park, which provides plenty of intrigue heading into the second half of SEC play.
Nationally, most eyes will be fixated upon Lexington, Ky., where No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Kentucky square off. However, the most important SEC series in a weekend full of pivotal three-game matchups most likely resides in Oxford, Miss.
The No. 16-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks (27-10, 8-7 SEC) holds a one-game edge over Auburn and No. 24 Ole Miss (25-12, 7-8 SEC) in the SEC West standings, putting emphasis on winning every game remaining on the schedule to keep pace with red-hot LSU. The Rebels have won just two of the first five series, but one of those series triumphs came three weeks ago when UM took two of three from then-No. 1-ranked Florida in Oxford.
The baseball game on Saturday will precede the annual Grove Bowl spring football game, meaning the crowd will be large and rambunctious at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field. Picking up the Friday night contest will be key for Arkansas in its bid to take home a big road series win.
The team that emerges victorious at least twice this weekend will be in prime position to contend with LSU down the stretch for the division crown, while the loser will have to most likely settle for a mid-to-low seed in Hoover.
The game times are as follows: Friday – 6:30 p.m. CT; Saturday – 4 p.m. CT; Sunday – 1:30 p.m. CT. (Cox Sports)
Bold prediction: Arkansas 2-1
• Tennessee (22-15, 7-8 SEC) at Mississippi State (21-16, 5-10 SEC)
Game Times: Thursday – 6:30 p.m. CT (ESPNU); Friday –6:30 p.m. CT; Saturday 1 p.m. CT
As a disclaimer, if you are a college baseball fan and you have not yet experienced a Super Bulldog Saturday game in Starkville, Miss., you need to put this near the top of your sports bucket list. Whenever you have 15,000-plus rabid baseball fans packing the stands and the outfield structures known as “left field lounge,” you are in for a treat – whether you root for the Dawgs or the opponent.
The fact that this year’s Saturday contest will most likely be the rubber match between Tennessee and MSU makes it even better. Both teams are in need of a series victory after losing footing in the division races last week.
State is coming off being swept by South Carolina, while Tennessee dropped two tough decisions to Florida in Knoxville a week ago. Things didn’t get better for the Bulldogs in midweek action as hated rival Ole Miss defeated Miss. State in the annual Governor’s Cup non-conference meeting in Pearl, Miss., on Tuesday night.
Bold prediction: Mississippi State 2-1
• No. 1 LSU (30-7, 11-4 SEC) at No. 2 Kentucky (33-5, 11-4 SEC)
Game Times: Friday – 5:30 p.m. CT (FoxSports South); Saturday – 1 p.m. CT (FoxSports South); Sunday – 12 p.m. CT
There are not two teams in America hotter than top-ranked LSU and No. 2 Kentucky.
The Wildcats, as has been discussed plenty in this column, had a school-best 22-0 start and have yet to drop a series in 2012. Since dropping its series with Auburn in the second week of SEC play, LSU has won 14 of its past 15 outings, with its lone loss coming at Florida two weeks ago.
I’m almost afraid for LSU’s sake that it’s peaking at the wrong time. If it takes two of three at Kentucky, though, I’ll buy more into this squad as one destined for Omaha and the College World Series.
Bold Prediction: Kentucky 2-1
• Georgia (23-15, 7-8 SEC) at No. 4 Florida (29-8, 9-6 SEC)
Game Times: Friday – 6 p.m. CT (CSS); Saturday – 6 p.m. CT (CSS); Sunday –2 p.m. CT (ESPN2)
Georgia and Florida both got much needed series victories a week ago, with Georgia taking two of three from Ole Miss and Florida knocking off Tennessee twice in Knoxville. The series triumph over Tennessee capped an extremely successful week for the Gators, who capped off a three-game non-conference sweep of Florida State that Tuesday night.
UGA has had difficulty with consistency since league play started, and Gainesville isn’t a good place to try to find it.
Bold Prediction: Florida 2-1
• No. 13 South Carolina (27-11, 8-7 SEC) at Auburn (21-16, 7-8 SEC)
Game Times: Friday – 6 p.m. CT; Saturday – 3 p.m. CT (SportSouth); Sunday – 1 p.m. CT
After winning the first three series in league play, Auburn has won just one of the past six SEC contests after falling twice in Nashville a week ago to Vanderbilt. The Tigers’ woes against the Commodores continued as AU has not won a series at VU since 2001.
Meanwhile, No. 13 South Carolina has found itself right back in the thick of the SEC East race (if Kentucky ever cools off) and is just a game out of second in the division after sweeping Mississippi State last weekend. After starting the SEC slate at 1-5, the two-time defending national champs are 7-2 in the past three series.
This is a matchup of teams heading in opposite directions, and I don’t think the trend reverses for either this week.
Bold Prediction: South Carolina 2-1
• Vanderbilt (17-20, 6-9 SEC) at Alabama (13-23, 4-11 SEC)
Game Times: Friday – 6:30 p.m. CT; Saturday – 2 p.m. CT; Sunday – 1 p.m. CT
It’s an interesting weekend when you have both division leaders facing off as well as both division’s last-place squads matching up.
This is an integral series for both squads if either plans to make a move on securing a spot for the SEC Tournament in a month. Alabama followed up its big sweep of Auburn by getting swept by LSU. Vandy finally got over the hump of near-misses and gained a series triumph over AU to get back on the right track and back into the top 10 of the overall league standings.
Winning on the road is never easy in this league, but right now, Vanderbilt is playing better baseball.
Bold Prediction: Vanderbilt 2-1