After 14 games in 4 days, the SEC Tournament field has narrowed to just 4 teams for the single elimination semifinal round. Thanks to a lucky draw and some weather mishaps, LSU enjoyed a day off on Friday while the rest of the tournament field still had to be settled. Enjoying a light practice at nearby Samford University, Coach Paul Mainieri had the following to say about the Tiger’s motivations for the rest of the weekend and the rest of the season.
While the Tigers took a break, the tournament continued. Florida and Mississippis State opened the day. State’s Cole Gordon, a little used arm with a high ERA, provided 7 innings of shut out ball as the bulldogs built a 3-0 lead. However, once he was pulled in the 8th, State’s beleaguered pitching staff came back to bite, and bite hard. Florida set a new tournament record with 11 runs in the 8th inning, all of it on 5 singles, 1 double, and 5 walks. The most interesting stat to watch so far this weekend: A record 24 home runs have been hit in Hoover this year, but Florida has hit none of them.
South Carolina and Kentucky then battled in a surprisingly impressive pitcher’s duel in an elimination game. Kentucky managed a ground out RBI in the first inning and that was all the scoring until the bottom of the 7th. With 2 on and 1 out, TJ Hopkins was put in to pinch hit and blasted one over the left fence for the 3-1 final score. South Carolina, who has spent more than a decade of doing absolutely nothing in Hoover, is now the 1st double-digit seed to make the weekend in tournament history. For Kentucky, the loss is a potentially a crippling blow to their national seed hopes.
In the nightcap, State and Arkansas faced each other for elimination and yet again, State ran out of pitching. With a 1-1 tie in the 6th, Arkansas blasted off for 6 runs on 6 hits and that was all she wrote. State’s bullpen had been so depleted that Brent Rooker, The SEC’s first triple crown winner in decades, pitched the bottom of the 8th and gave up a 2 run double for his troubles. State is certainly in the tournament, but I’m not sure they’ll be hosting. Arkansas faces Florida in Saturday’s 2nd game.
LSU is really sitting in the cat bird seat in the tournament. Thanks to the stellar performance so far, basically only Alex Lange and Caleb Gilbert will be unavailable for the 2 potential games LSU has left to play. Sr. LHP Jared Poche’ (9-3, 3.40 ERA, 84.2 IP, 27 BB, 54 SO) will get the start today vs South Carolina. The Gamecocks have not yet named a starter, but the educated guesses are for Fr. RHP Colby Lee (2-0, 4.78 ERA) or Jr. LHP John Parke (2-1, 6.57). The game is at noon on the SEC Network.