The SEC baseball season came to a close this past weekend, as the table was set for the league tournament starting Wednesday afternoon. The first pitch in postseason play will be fired at 9:30 AM, as rivals Alabama and Auburn kick off the double-elimination tournament in a 2/7 match-up. Vanderbilt will kick off the second-season at around 7:30 PM as sophomore ace Sonny Gray takes the hill in a rematch with an Arkansas team that took two of three games from the Commodores in their last series of the regular season. However, Gray was the winning pitcher in Vandy's only win that weekend.
Auburn emerged as 2010's biggest surprise, as a talented squad led the Tigers to their first SEC Tournament appearance in seven years. The team captured the West and the #2 seed in the bracket with a monumental sweep at Mississippi in the season's final week. LSU, on the other hand, nearly played their way out of the postseason with a late slump that was only redeemed by the final-week bed-wetting performance of Kentucky. With both teams jockeying for the final spot in the league tournament, the Tigers took care of business against 5-22 Mississippi State while the 'Cats dropped their first two games of the weekend - including a 20-0 embarrassment with their season on the line - to 3-22 Georgia. Sadly, UK's official athletics website is still in denial over the result.
Kentucky and Tennessee's failure to make it to the SEC Tournament will have a significant impact on their chances of playing in a NCAA Regional as well. The Volunteers and Wildcats were a pair of bubble teams that needed solid performances to build their resumes for an at-large bid that may now escape them in 2010. Kentucky in particular looked to be in good standing until their epic losses to lowly Georgia, while Tennessee had their late season momentum halted with a sweep at Alabama's hands.
Heading into the home stretch, here's how the SEC breaks down:
|The League's Elite|
||40-13 (22-8)||Regular season champs, five all-SEC players, and six members on the SEC All-Freshman team. Not a bad year for the Gators so far, but the real season starts Wednesday.|
|2)||2||South Carolina||43-13 (21-9)||Dropped two games to Florida to cede the regular season championship, then unleashed the fury in Game 3 to extract a bit of revenge. Florida's pitching may have given the rest of the league the blueprint to take down the Gamecocks, though.|
|3)||4||Auburn||39-17 (20-10)||Auburn got it done, sweeping out Ole Miss and earning the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament. The Tigers have the most potent offense in the league, with only two batters on the whole team batting under .300 - and those two guys only have a combined 10 at-bats. Four more players have 15 home runs or more in just 56 games.|
|Solid Resumes, NCAA Tourney-Bound|
|4)||5||Arkansas||40-16 (18-12)||The 'Hogs proved their mettle by beating Vanderbilt in Nashville, but it wasn't enough to catch Auburn. Arkansas likely clinched a home date in the NCAA Tournament, but a few more wins in the SEC Tournament wouldn't hurt their case.|
|5)||3||Vanderbilt||40-15 (16-12)||Lost a pair of tough games against Arkansas when the 'Dores rallies fell short in the ninth inning of Games 2 and 3. Vandy is squarely on the bubble when it comes to hosting a NCAA regional, and the Commodores will probably need wins against the Hogs and against Florida this week to make their case to bring baseball back to Hawkins Field in 2010.|
|6)||8||Alabama||34-21 (15-15)||Bama finished strong after a weak middle chunk of their schedule. Five straight wins against teams that battling for playoff position sent a major message to the rest of the league - The Tide have regained their stride.|
|7)||6||Ole Miss||36-20 (16-14)||The Rebels' fall behind the Crimson Tide on the strength of 'Bama's series win last week and Ole Miss's sweep at the hands of Auburn, but still are a dangerous team with a solid chance to win the SEC crown. However, expect the spotlight to be turned up on Drew Pomeranz and his nagging pectoral muscle when the Rebels need some big wins.|
|I'm Not Sold Yet, But Welcome to Hoover.|
|8)||10||LSU||36-20 (14-16)||Limped into the SEC Tournament by virtue of Kentucky's epic Friday night turd. LSU has the talent, but do they have the composure to make a deep tournament run? Fortunately, their SECT berth will give them an extra life in the NCAA Tournament to prove that they were the team that we once thought they were.|
|Maybe the Selection Committee Will See Something Special Here|
|9)||9||Tennessee||30-26 (12-18)||A series win against Auburn would have jumped them up to NCAA Tournament lock, but instead they got pounded out 18-0 and 9-2 after a Friday win. Still, you can expect to see the Volunteers playing in June.|
|There's Always Next Year…|
|10)||12||Georgia||16-37 (5-23)||12.5% of Georgia's overall wins (40% of their SEC wins!) came whilst destroying Kentucky's season. Talk about playing the spoiler.|
|11)||11||Mississippi State||23-33 (6-24)||The Bulldogs finished the season with a win over LSU. That's reason to be optimistic, right?|
|The Lexington Bin of Failure|
|12)||7||Kentucky||31-25 (13-17)||Georgia 20, Kentucky 0. With their season on the line. Enjoy the basement this week, fellas.|
The real season starts tomorrow at 9:30 AM, and we'll get to see who the true threats are out of the SEC. While the tournament favorites are clear, darkhorses like Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU linger with the threat to eliminate top teams on their way to a surprising title. The Southeastern Conference has proven to be one of the best in the country in 2010, and this week will be a showcase of elite teams and cutthroat competition. If Vanderbilt's pitching can hold up from top to bottom, then the 'Dores will have a great chance to be hoisting a trophy come Sunday. If they can't find their consistency, then expect an early return to Nashville for Vandy.