The SEC doesn't just do football.
What has been the best college baseball conference all season has already run the gamut of possible narratives at the conference tournament in Hoover, Alabama.
Rivalry game? Check. Major upset? Check. Pitchers' duel? Check. Massive blowout featuring tons of offense? Check and check.
The 2014 SEC tournament has an uphill battle in terms of matching the excitement of the previous two days. However, the drama will only build as teams take one step closer to either elimination or coronation.
|9||No. 6 Vanderbilt vs. No. 2 Ole Miss||9:30 a.m.||ESPN3|
|10||No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 South Carolina||12:30 p.m.||ESPN3|
|11||No. 3 LSU vs. No. 7 Arkansas||4:30 p.m.||ESPN3|
|12||No. 9 Kentucky vs. No. 5 Mississippi State||7:30 p.m.||ESPN3|
No. 6 Vanderbilt vs. No. 2 Ole Miss
A 10-run loss to LSU is the least of Vanderbilt's worries at the moment. The Commodores are sitting in a precarious position. They need to shut down a potent Ole Miss offense and hand Christian Trent his first loss of the year.
The Rebels failed to give Chris Ellis much help on Wednesday, scoring one run in a 2-1 loss to Arkansas. Austin Anderson and Auston Bousfield both went without a hit, while the combination of Will Allen and J.B. Woodman went 2-for-7.
Those are four of the Rebels' best hitters, and they all played well below their best against the Razorbacks. The chances that that happens against Vanderbilt seem slim, no matter how good the Commodores' pitching is.
Ole Miss will also be sending out Trent, who posted a peerless 6-0 record and 1.84 earned run average in SEC play.
Put it all together, and it looks like the Rebels will prolong their SEC tournament stay for at least another day.
Winner: Ole Miss, 3-2
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 South Carolina
Right now, Florida looks to be fighting a losing battle with apathy. The Gators can't really gain anything in Hoover, with their national seed essentially in the bag.
As Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun wrote, head coach Kevin O'Sullivan doesn't consider winning the SEC tournament a top priority:
The No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament, the Gators certainly would like to win it. But, they've already won the regular-season championship, and they're also aware that bigger games lie ahead next week when NCAA regional play begins.
“As far as winning it, there's a long way to go for that,” O'Sullivan said. “We've been really consistent throughout the year after a shaky start. I just want us to play well and build some momentum (going into next week).”
The Gators might be in luck against a South Carolina team that was decimated by Mississippi State on Wednesday night. The Gamecocks could only muster two hits en route to a 12-0 run-rule defeat after seven innings.
Florida's defeat to Kentucky should've served as a wake-up call for at least a game or two, bringing the top seed to a level comparable to its best.
Winner: Florida, 5-1
No. 3 LSU vs. No. 7 Arkansas
Arkansas sprung the biggest surprise on Wednesday with a 2-1 win over Ole Miss. Ellis pitched well, but the Razorbacks found just enough offense to come out on top.
LSU, on the other hand, had runs in abundance, dropping 11 on Vanderbilt and run-ruling the Commodores in the seventh inning. Alex Bregman was a one-man wrecking crew, going 3-for-4 and driving in five runs.
Wednesday was only a continuation of the hot streak Bregman carried with him to Hoover:
Bregman has raised his batting average 29 points in the last calendar week. He's up to .309 now and has matched his HR total from last year.— Luke Johnson (@ByLukeJohnson) May 21, 2014
After the game, the sophomore shortstop described LSU's beautifully simple strategy to wear down the Arkansas pitching staff.
"I think we came out today with the approach of getting on base and putting together quality at-bats," he said, per the Tigers' official site. "We stuck to that approach the entire game, and the ball was traveling well."
Why doesn't everybody do that?
So much of postseason tournaments are about which team is hotter, and right now, LSU is a buzz saw. It has a five-game winning streak on the line against the Razorbacks, and it should grow to six games on Thursday.
Winner: LSU, 4-0
No. 9 Kentucky vs. No. 5 Mississippi State
Speaking of buzz saws, Mississippi State dropped eight runs in the top of the seventh inning to dispatch South Carolina 12-0.
Jacob Lindgren threw four innings, failing to surrender a hit and striking out six. That performance drops his ERA down to microscopic levels:
Lindgren's ERA down to 0.88. In SEC games it's 0.49.— Michael Bonner (@MikeBBonner) May 22, 2014
While Kentucky is coming off a win over the top-seeded Gators, the Wildcats have been living a bit of a charmed life over the last few weeks. Sooner or later, their bubble will burst.
The Bulldogs have both the offensive firepower and pitching staff to make that happen. In addition, their players are walking around with a certain amount of swagger that you want to see from any team vying for a postseason conference title, per Matthew Stevens of The Commercial Dispatch:
What MSU takes from Wednesday into NCAA play?…Every veteran so far in Hoover is acting w/ a been there, done that attitude. B/c THEY HAVE.— Matthew Stevens (@matthewcstevens) May 22, 2014
Flipping the switch in postseason isn’t new to Rea, Henderson, Lindgren, Pirtle, Bradford etc. - They stressed tonight this is MSU’s time.— Matthew Stevens (@matthewcstevens) May 22, 2014
Mississippi State will simply be too much for Kentucky.
Winner: Mississippi State, 6-3