After each won a single-elimination semifinal test on Saturday, the LSU Tigers and Florida Gators will do battle Sunday for the 2014 SEC baseball tournament championship.
Saturday's semifinal action was thrilling and down to the wire on one end, but quite lopsided on the other. Top seed Florida and ninth-seeded Kentucky played in a barnburner, but LSU and Arkansas didn't even make it the full nine innings.
The regular-season-champion Gators were tested early. Kentucky jumped ahead 3-0 after two innings of play and re-gained a 5-4 lead heading into the seventh. But a late push in the seventh and eighth innings got Florida in front enough to squeak out a 6-5 victory and advance to Sunday's final.
Before that, though, it was a bit uglier. No. 3 seed LSU sprinted ahead early and didn't look back, crushing the Razorbacks 11-1. The game was called before the ninth inning, after the Tigers rattled off two runs in the eighth to take a 10-run lead—prompting the mercy rule.
Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game summed up the rout:
Here's a list of results from Saturday's games and a look forward to Sunday's championship.
|15||No. 7 Arkansas||No. 3 LSU||LSU 11, Arkansas 1 (8)|
|16||No. 9 Kentucky||No. 1 Florida||Florida 6, Kentucky 5|
SEC Championship Breakdown
|Sunday, May 25, 3:30 p.m.||No. 3 LSU||No. 1 Florida||ESPN2|
It might not be a No 1.-versus-No. 2 championship game, but the two teams in the SEC currently playing at the highest level made it to Sunday's final.
Baseball fans simply could not have asked for more, as Rogers notes:
Florida has consistently been the top dog in the conference this year, so it's no surprise to see the Gators make it through the gauntlet and into the championship game. That doesn't mean the team was without its doubts—Florida lost its opening game of the double-elimination tournament to Kentucky before winning its next three.
The Tigers, on the other hand, haven't had such struggles.
LSU stomped on Vanderbilt, 11-1, in its opening game of the tournament. Next up was Arkansas, which the Tigers toppled 7-2. Next up, once again, were the Razorbacks on Saturday, and their opponent couldn't even make it the nine full innings.
It will be Alden Cartwright starting for the Tigers on Sunday according to The Advocate's Ross Dellenger:
Alden Cartwright will start for #LSU against Florida.— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) May 25, 2014
Cartwright has only started five games all season but has appeared in 19 games with a 2.12 ERA, per LSU's official season stats.
LSU won't be alone in throwing out one of its less experienced starters, as Randy Rosetta of The Times-Picayune reports:
Florida likely to go with either Florida, Jr. RH Karsten Whitson (1-1, 4.60 ERA) or Fr. RH Dane Dunning (1-1, 5.31 ERA) vs. #LSU.— Randy Rosetta (@RandyRosetta) May 25, 2014
Neither school is able to put out its ace onto the mound for Sunday, with the unforgiving nature of the tournament leaving the best pitchers with not enough rest.
With that considered, it will come down to who has the hottest bats. It's no argument that the LSU Tigers are ahead in that category.
The Tigers have a whopping 29 runs in three games. Florida has also shown the ability to get its bats scorching at times, but 20 runs in four games doesn't speak too convincingly in the Gators' favor.
Florida relies on its ability to lean on strong pitching and out-will opponents, but that shouldn't be the case without one of the Gators' usual starters on the mound. It should come down to who is hottest at the moment, and there's no doubt that is LSU.
Prediction: LSU over Florida, 6-4
Note: All information courtesy of SECDigitalNetwork.com unless otherwise noted.