It took three months, but the Vanderbilt Commodores - BaseballAmerica's 10th ranked team in the preseason - have finally hit .500.
Vanderbilt's win over rival Louisville on Tuesday night lifted the 'Dores to 24-24 on the season and put them in position to make a run at the NCAA Tournament after a disappointing 1-7 start. However, Tim Corbin's team has a tough road to follow if they want to keep their heads above water. They'll travel to #3 LSU before hosting an Ole Miss team that has been a top 25 mainstay for much of the year. After that, they'll face off with the SEC's best teams in the conference tournament.
For the Diamond 'Dores to guarantee a non-losing record, they'll have to win four of their last six games heading into Hoover's double-elimination bracket. That's a tall task, but this young team is hitting its stride at the right time. Vanderbilt has gone 7-2 in their last nine games and has used clutch offensive performances to rise above some shaky pitching. They're fighting for their postseason lives thanks to a brutal out-of-conference schedule, but that desperation manifested itself into a gritty comeback win Tuesday night. That sense of urgency should make this weekend's tilt in Baton Rouge the series to watch in the SEC.
Elsewhere in the league, South Carolina made a big statement by ending Arkansas's momentum in a closely fought battle last weekend. The Gamecocks won two of three in Fayetteville to keep pace with LSU at the top of the SEC standings at 16-8. Louisiana State also passed a test, outlasting Ole Miss in a 13-inning game on Friday and winning Sunday's rubber match to knock the Rebels out of the national top 25.
The weekend's other big showdown saw #7 Kentucky's late-season fade continue with a series loss at home against #6 Florida. The Wildcats have lost five of their last seven games. Auburn continued their up-and-down season with a three-game sweep against Georgia, while Mississippi State climbed into the national rankings by getting past Alabama on the road. State has now won nine of their last 11 games, but their most formidable opponent over that span was a fading Mississippi team.
So how did this weekend's action affect the power rankings? Check it out after the jump...
|The Old Guard (and Kentucky)
|Blew open their rubber match against Ole Miss with a 12-run, 4-HR performance on Sunday to hang on to the top spot. LSU has a ton of ways to beat you, but the most dangerous aspect of their game may be their composure.
|SC showed that their 13-2 record in the past five weeks wasn't just a function of playing lower-level teams with a hard-fought series win over Arkansas. Now, if they could only find the time to avenge that loss to Francis Marion…
|Florida did what South Carolina, Ole Miss, and LSU couldn't - they won a series in Lexington. The Wildcats were 7-2 in the SEC at home until Florida came in won a low-scoring affair this weekend. The Gators haven't given up more than five runs in a game in over a month now.
|There's no doubt that the 'Cats are fading, but let's not write them off just because of series losses to Vanderbilt and Florida. A number of big wins this season will have them hosting a Regional, but they'll have to right the ship if they're intent on locking down a national seed in 2012.
|Their win over Florida last week legitimized them, and a tough, close series loss to South Carolina does nothing to affect that status. Still, the 'Hogs let their last chance to score a meaningful series win this season slip away, and that may cost them when it comes to seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
|Still Fighting to Host NCAA Tournament Baseball
|Three weeks ago, the Bulldogs were 5-10 in conference play thanks to a rough stretch of games to open the SEC season. Over the past three weeks, they've rebounded against Ole Miss (solid), Tennessee, and Alabama (not so solid). They finish up their season against Florida and Kentucky, and those matchups will give us an idea of whether this team is actually top 25 worth in 2012.
|The Middle Ground of the SEC, the Upper Tier of Other Conferences
|The 'Dawgs needed a big showing against Auburn to right their ship after losses to LSU and Florida, and they did everything that they were supposed to do in a sweep of the Tigers. Georgia continues to prove that they won't beat themselves, and that will give plenty of teams trouble in Hoover.
|Losing against LSU was expected, but those losses likely evaporated any chance the Rebels had at hosting postseason baseball this year. Even if the Rebels win out to finish the regular season, lackluster opponents in Vanderbilt and Tennessee won't do much to persuade the NCAA's selection committee.
|Tuesday's win over Louisville was about more than just a bourbon barrel - it was about the vindication of an entire season for the Commodores. Vandy is now at .500 for the first time since 0-0, and they'll need to stay there if they want to make it to the NCAA Tournament for the seventh straight year.
|The Alabama Zone.
|A sweep at the hands of Georgia puts their NCAA Tournament hopes in a pretty dark place, especially with the recent emergence of Vanderbilt. Once a pleasant surprise, these Tigers have sunk into the dregs of the SEC.
|Nearly ruined in-state rival Vandy's season with a Friday night win, but couldn't hang on to effectively destroy the 'Dores postseason chances. Tennessee has quite a climb ahead of them just to qualify for the conference tournament with Ole Miss and Arkansas remaining on the schedule.
|Barring a miracle run through the final two weeks and the SEC Tournament, it's safe for the 'Bama boys to go ahead and get their summer plans finalized a bit early this year.