The stage is set for the Final Four portion of the 2014 SEC baseball tournament bracket after two tense contests on Friday foreshadowed the strong weekend of play yet to come.
Arkansas kicked things off with an epic comeback to down Ole Miss, and as a result, it gets another shot at LSU in a matchup that is becoming one of the conference's better rivalries.
Shortly after, Florida kept the ball rolling and gets a fateful rematch with the Kentucky Wildcats, the team that knocked off the Gators earlier in the week.
Here is look at the results, followed by a breakdown of the Final Four.
Day 4 Results
|13||Arkansas 8, Ole Miss 7|
|14||Florida 5, Mississippi State 1|
Final Four Picks
LSU vs. Arkansas
So they meet again.
A few days removed from a humbling 7-2 defeat at the hands of LSU, the Razorbacks once again get a chance to right the ship and bring their overall record against LSU to 5-5 over the past two years.
To do so and advance to the SEC title game, the work on the mound has to improve. As Trey Mongrue of DIG Baton Rouge Magazine illustrates, the Razorbacks pitching has left something to be desired this tournament:
Arkansas has had 8 pitchers have outings of 35+ pitches this tournament. #LSU has had 2.— Trey Mongrue (@TreyMongrue) May 23, 2014
Per Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game USA, coach Dave Van Horn is leaving Arkansas' fate in the hands of Zach Jackson:
Sorry, but trotting out a freshman against an explosive lineup in a high-pressure situation does not seem like a great idea.
Jackson is 2-1 with a 1.70 ERA in 37 innings pitched, but he may not have enough to contain a Tigers lineup that has scored 18 runs in two games to this point.
Then again, LSU's starter, Kyle Bouman, did not exactly fare well against the Razorbacks his last time out, as Chandler Rome of The Daily Reveille points out:
Kyle Bouman lasted one inning in his start against Arkansas on April 13. Gave up 4 earned, including a 1st inning grand slam. #LSU lost 10-4— Chandler Rome (@Rome_TDR) May 23, 2014
To be fair, Bouman seems ready for revenge, per Ross Dellenger of The Advocate:
Kyle Bouman, Saturday's starter: "If you're nervous, you probably wouldn't have the ball in your hands." #LSU— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) May 23, 2014
Translation—expect a slugfest with plenty of runs pushed across the plate. The problem is, Arkansas has spent everything it has to get to this point. LSU is that steady offensive-minded contender that will have no issues rolling an opponent it traditionally dominates (60-29 all-time) two days after doing so 7-2, against a freshman no less.
Prediction: LSU 8, Arkansas 5
Kentucky vs. Florida
A fast start is key for the Wildcats, as shown by their 4-2 victory over the Gators on Wednesday. Then, Kentucky got a pair of runs in the first and third innings to give the pitching duo of Kyle Cody and Chandler Shepherd breathing room on the mound.
Resiliency has been the name of the game recently for the Wildcats. After toppling the Gators, Kentucky survived a 12-inning affair with Mississippi State, 7-6.
Interestingly enough, the loss to the Wildcats seems to have lit fire under the Gators. A 7-2 triumph over South Carolina was followed by Friday night's 5-1 win over Mississippi State in which the Gators notched 10 hits and held the Bulldogs scoreless through seven innings.
For Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan, the level of competition on Saturday is something he embraces with open arms, per Sean Cartell of the SEC Digital Network:
Tomorrow’s game will be the usual. We have to be able to pitch. We have to be able to play defense. We have to be able to get some timely hits. It is the same game. Obviously Kentucky has been playing pretty well. That is what you want at this time of the year. You are trying to get ready for NCAA Regionals. You are going to play these types of teams, and you have to play your best to win. We feel fortunate to still be playing.
Kentucky has had a day of rest, but in that time span, the Gators have found life in all facets. The bullpen is wicked deep, as noted by Justin Shafer's 4.2 innings of relief on Friday night. The hitting is on a roll that has the look of an unstoppable force.
Florida has allowed just one run in 15 innings, and star Harrison Bader has a 7-for-12 mark at the plate so far in the tournament. The overall best team in the SEC has returned, and Kentucky won't have an answer on Saturday.
Prediction: Florida 6, Kentucky 4