With only six teams remaining in the 2013 SEC Baseball Tournament, we're getting into crunch time with respect to those still capable of winning the conference and moving on to the College World Series later this summer.
Two games on Friday will help move us closer to that reality.
No. 2 LSU took on No. 7 Alabama in the opener on Friday afternoon in Hoover, while No. 9 Texas A&M is slated to take on No. 1 Vanderbilt in the nightcap. Both matchups feature teams who have already seen each other in the tournament so far.
LSU got the best of Alabama on Wednesday, but the Tide bounced back to force the Tigers to pull off another victory to move on to final stages of the tournament on Saturday and Sunday. Texas A&M pulled off the upset of Vanderbilt on the same afternoon, but the Aggies won't be favorites for two straight wins over the SEC's top teams.
Take a look at the sections below to see how things played out on Day 4 of the SEC Baseball Tournament.
No. 2 LSU 3, No. 7 Alabama 2
Just when it looked like Alabama had figured out the LSU lineup, the Tigers remembered that nothing is over until the final out is recorded on the diamond.
After Alabama took a one-run lead into the ninth inning and had LSU down to its next-to-last strike, the Tigers stormed back, scoring two runs with two outs and finishing off Alabama in order in the bottom half of the ninth to eliminate the Tide for good.
SEC Sports had the tweet as the game ended:
LSU moves to 50-9 on the season with the victory and will battle Arkansas when play gets underway on Saturday afternoon in Hoover.
Through the first few innings, this game had the makings of another pitcher's duel in a conference tournament. Both LSU starter Ryan Eades and Alabama starter Mike Oczypok were magnificent through the first few innings.
Eades, whose draft rights are owned by the Colorado Rockies, got in trouble in the fifth inning. A leadoff walk by Ben Moore quickly turned into the first Alabama run, as Mikey White managed to follow with a triple to knot the score at one.
After Austen Smith struck out swinging, Brett Booth came through to drive White home and give the Tide a lead that they would not surrender until the game was within their grasp in the top half of the ninth.
As the game continued to push forward and the Tigers largely unable to mount any threat against Alabama's one-run lead, the story of the day was Alabama starter Oczypok. A walk-on freshman, his first 8.2 innings were everything Alabama needed after three straight days of games in the conference tournament.
Jon Solomon surmised the same on Twitter:
The story in Hoover so far: Alabama freshman walk-on Mike Oczypok is pitching 1-run ball through 7 innings vs. No. 2 LSU.— Jon Solomon (@jonsol) May 24, 2013
It wasn't enough, though, as LSU still had one more out, and specifically, one more strike, against Oczypok before the complete game could be logged in the books and the Tide could avoid elimination for another day.
Christian Ibarra's two-out single kept the Tigers alive, and it wasn't long before LSU mounted the comeback for good.
Tyler Moore then doubled to bring home the pinch runner, and after Alabama made the decision to sit Oczypok for good after 26 brilliant outs, Jay Shaw surrendered what turned out to be the game-winning run on catcher Ty Ross' second hit of the day.
LSU would finish with 11 hits on the afternoon, but none bigger than Ross' clutch moment to keep the Tigers' chances alive in front of a booming crowd in Hoover.
Chris Cotton, who had 13 saves and a 1.57 ERA prior to the ballgame, closed the door with three straight strikeouts and the Tigers escaped from a tense showdown with their SEC rival with a chance to keep playing on Saturday.
Bryan Lazare had the tweet as the Tigers closed it out:
Cotton strikes out side in 9th. #LSU wins 3-2. Tigers are 50-9. Play Arkansas at noon in semifinals Saturday.— Bryan Lazare (@bldore) May 24, 2013
LSU's three pitchers managed to hold Alabama to just four hits, two of which came from the shortstop White. Booth added another hit and the only other Alabama RBI on the afternoon.
Mark Laird, Mason Katz, Sean McMullen and Ross all had multi-hit days for the Tigers, while first baseman Tyler Moore added a knock and the opening RBI that put LSU on the board in the third inning.
For Alabama, the season is over. LSU, though, gets to move on to the next stage of the elimination round and will need to head back to the tape to see how to avoid another loss to Arkansas if it wants to make it to the SEC tournament championship on Sunday.
LSU and Arkansas will clash at Noon ET on Saturday in Hoover.
No. 1 Vanderbilt 3, No. 9 Texas A&M 0
|Texas A&M ||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||1|
Vanderbilt is one game closer to the SEC Championship after defeating and eliminating Texas A&M, 3-0. SEC Baseball broke down the situation:
It was a bit of sweet revenge for Vandy as it lost, 5-0 to the Aggies back on Wednesday.
The Commodores won this one largely on the strength of starting pitcher Tyler Beede, who threw a gem for 7.1 innings. Beede only gave up two hits, struck out eight and walked four. It was a dominant performance from a pitcher who's been great all season. He wasn't fazed one bit by the pressure of the stage.
He's been one of the best pitchers in the country, and those unaware saw exactly why on Friday night.
Brian Miller came in to finish off the game. With Vandy only carrying a three-run lead into the eighth and ninth, Miller could have easily allowed the Aggies an opportunity to stage a late comeback. Instead, he didn't allow a runner on base in his 1.2 innings pitched.
With pitching like that, you don't need a ton of offense.
If you simply look at the score, you'd think this was a close game; however, Vanderbilt had 14 hits on the night despite scoring just three runs. Texas A&M was simply outclassed and couldn't find the key to unlock the combination of Beede and Miller.
It was a much different situation for Texas A&M. Starting pitcher Grayson Long was out after 2.1 innings, giving up two runs on seven hits. All told, the Aggies used five pitchers on the night. They settled in after Long's departure, but the damage was already done.
Who will win the SEC Baseball Tournament?
Chance Bolcerek and Troy Stein were the only Aggies who recorded a hit. Cole Lankford, Daniel Mengden and Jace Statum also reached base, via walk. Stein reached third base in the bottom of the seventh inning, and that's as close as Texas A&M got to scoring.
Xavier Turner led off the scoring when he doubled to left center in the top of the third inning. Tony Kemp scored easily from third base. Still in the third inning, Connor Harrell hit a sac fly to center, allowing Turner to score.
In the top of the fifth inning, Rhett Wiseman singled to centerfield, during which Harrell scored from second. That would conclude the scoring for the game, but it was more than enough for Beede and Miller. Beede runs his record to 14-0 on the season, and his ERA improves to 2.10. It's the 15th save on the season for Miller and the 20th of his career.
Kemp led all batters with three hits, with Wiseman, Turner, Conrad Gregor and Mike Yazstrzemski had two hits apiece. Turner was the only Commodore with an extra-base hit.
It's a disappointing end to the tournament for Texas A&M. All that's left now is to see how the NCAA tournament unfolds (h/t Texas A&M Baseball):
Aggies lose to Vanderbilt 3-0... Eliminated from the SEC Tournament after going 2-2... NCAA Tournament bids are announced Monday at 11 am CT— Texas A&M Baseball (@Aggie_Baseball) May 25, 2013
With the win, Vanderbilt runs its record to 50-8 on the season. The Commodores will meet Mississippi State on Saturday.
Follow B/R Featured Columnist Ethan Grant on Twitter: