The usual suspects remain as the SEC baseball tournament's Final Four gets underway on Saturday.
Both matchups are rematches of prior tournament games due to the nature of the beast, and the good news is they are interesting enough in multiple ways that fans of the conference and sport in general won't want to miss out.
With a trip to the SEC title game on the line, expect LSU, Arkansas, Kentucky and Florida to pull no punches. Let's take a look at the schedule and choose which teams will advance to the final.
|SEC Tournament - Final Four Schedule & Predictions (May 24)|
|Game No.||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV Info||Predicted Winner|
|15||LSU vs. Arkansas||1 p.m.||ESPNews||LSU|
|16||Kentucky vs. Florida||TBD||ESPNews||Florida|
The full tournament bracket is available at SECDigitalNetwork.com.
The first matchup on the day seems rather easy to predict.
Simply put, Arkansas is gassed, and LSU is not only in a better position in terms of rest and talent, but scored a 7-2 win over these same Razorbacks just days ago. Arkansas has fought back to get another shot at the Tigers, but LSU holds a 60-29 all-time series record for a reason.
Saturday marks the Razorbacks' fifth game in as many days, so coach Dave Van Horn has to roll with freshman pitcher Zach Jackson against a lineup that has scored 18 runs in two games.
As Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game USA kindly muses, it's an interesting decision, to say the least:
Even worse for Arkansas, the Tigers' pitching staff is well-rested. Kyle Bouman gets the nod and is a bit of a risk, but thanks to great days from starters Jared Poche and Aaron Nola in the team's prior two games, the bullpen is more than ready to go should Bouman falter.
It's simply a bad set of circumstances for Arkansas, which has done much to get back to this point. Unfortunately, LSU's hitting and pitching has been arguably the best in the tournament thus far and shows no sign of slowing thanks to savvy management that has kept all involved fresh.
Much of the same can be said about the Gators, even if they are going up against a team that handed them a loss earlier in the week.
Kentucky upended Florida 4-2 in the early goings of the tournament and did well to stay alive via a 7-6 win over Mississippi State shortly thereafter, but the victory over the Gators may have been a horrific thing in the end.
Now the Gators are alive and firing on all cylinders. Wins over South Carolina and Mississippi State by a combined 12-3 margin show that well enough. Friday night's win over the Bulldogs was a dominant display that showed the Gators' strength in the bullpen—via 4.2 innings of relief from Justin Shafer after seven scoreless innings—is alive and well.
As Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said after the win, via The Gainesville Sun, the pitching continues to propel the Gators:
The pitching was outstanding. Danny [Young] gave us a really good start and Shafer I think had his longest outing of the year. He threw the ball really, really well against a really tough lineup with a lot of left-handed hitters. We didn’t walk anybody and didn’t make any errors. When we do that we usually end up playing pretty good and it ends up being a pretty good game for us.
That pitching is not going anywhere any time soon. At the plate, Harrison Bader leads the way for the Gators thanks to his 7-for-12 mark that includes multiple hits in each contest. A total of 10 hits against the Bulldogs shows the Gators can still get hot.
One thing is for sure: If the Wildcats are planning on making it to the title game, they better get off to a hot start and lead after seven innings. The Gators are 30-0 this year when leading after seven frames.