After four days of action-packed baseball at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, only four teams remain with eyes toward winning the 2013 SEC Baseball Tournament.
Both LSU and Vanderbilt won elimination games on Friday afternoon/evening to put themselves in position to reach the tournament's final four teams, joining Arkansas and Mississippi State in the semifinals of the bracket.
No. 2 LSU and No. 3 Arkansas had already faced off earlier in the tournament, with the Hogs getting the best of the higher-seeded Tigers to gain a leg-up on making it through to the final. No. 1 Vanderbilt avenged its earlier loss to Texas A&M on Friday evening, earning the right for a chance to take on the well-traveled No. 5 Mississippi State squad. The Bulldogs are 3-0 in the tournament so far.
The Tigers and Razorbacks were the first game of the day at 1 p.m. ET, while the Commodores and Bulldogs' first pitch is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET.
With Sunday's championship game in sight, let's take a look at the action from Saturday afternoon in one of college baseball's richest conference tournaments.
No. 2 LSU 3, No. 3 Arkansas 1
Arkansas got the best of LSU when the two teams played each other during the earlier stages of the 2013 SEC tournament, but the Tigers showed on Saturday afternoon why they are considered one of the best teams in the nation.
LSU put on a pitching clinic and scored timely runs in the late innings. They will move on to the championship game after defeating Arkansas by a score of 3-1.
Five LSU pitchers combined to yield just one hit through nine innings.
Mark Etheridge had the tweet as LSU celebrated it's elimination-game victory:
Freshman starter Hunter Newman, making his first such trip to the mound in SEC play, got the ball for the Tigers on Saturday afternoon. Newman made it through four innings without yielding a hit, but gave up a run in the third after walks and errors plagued LSU's defense.
Jake Wise walked to lead off the frame and a throwing error by Newman put him on second. After a groundout advanced Wise to third, second baseman Mason Katz opened the door for the Hogs after dropping a pop-up. Wise would score, and the Hogs would take a 1-0 lead (via LSU Baseball):
It would be the last run Arkansas would score in the afternoon.
As noted by SEC Sports, it was the Hogs that led the nation in ERA coming into the ballgame, but the LSU pitchers dug deep and managed to give Arkansas a taste of its own medicine the rest of the way:
Arkansas had chances to score in both the fourth and the fifth inning, largely because walks and wild pitching gave the Hogs chances they didn't deserve based on the hit column. However, Newman and Kevin Berry managed to keep Arkansas at bay with timely pitches to get out of both frames.
LSU then came alive in the sixth.
Katz walked to lead off the inning, moved to third on a single by Raph Rhymes and would score on Christian Ibarra's hit to left field during the next at-bat. The Tigers weren't done, as Ty Ross' bunt moved the runners into scoring position on the next play. Tyler Moore then beat out a double play to score Rhymes from third.
Arkansas pitcher Brandon Moore was charged with both runs in the inning. All the while, the Razorbacks couldn't mount any threat, totaling only one baserunner over the next three innings.
The Bayou Bengals added an insurance run in the seventh, when Ibarra's double scored Katz again to give the Tigers their final run of the afternoon. As noted by Bob Holt, it likely would have been 4-1 without Rhymes' mistake:
LSU threatened again in the eighth inning, but Alex Bregman struck out with a runner on third to end the Tiger threat. Missing out again in the ninth, the Tigers turned to closer Chris Cotton to close out the Razorbacks, and close them out he did.
Just like he did against Alabama on Friday, Cotton shut the door on the Hogs—getting two fly balls and a strikeout to help the Tigers move on to the SEC Tournament championship game on Sunday afternoon.
Ibarra and the five pitchers that took the mound were the heroes for the Tigers on Satuday. Ibarra went 3-for-4 with two of the team's three RBI on the afternoon, while Newman, Cotton and three others combined for the one-hit shutout victory.
For Arkansas, its fate now lies in the hands of the NCAA selection committee for the College World Series. No Razorback was on base more than once in this game, as LSU thoroughly shut down the Hogs' offense all afternoon. The Hogs went down in order each of the final three innings.
No. 1 Vanderbilt 16, No. 5 Mississippi State 8
The No. 1-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores have been somewhat subdued on offense during the 2013 SEC tournament, but that all changed in the second inning against the No. 5 Mississippi State Bulldogs during the night cap of Saturday's action.
A seven-spot in the second frame got Vandy going, and the Commodores scored nine more runs through the final seven frames to knock off the Bulldogs by a score of 16-8 in the last game before the tournament final.
Vandy Baseball had this tweet with the final tally:
A scoreless first inning on both sides proved to be the last time at least one of the two teams would not find home plate in one-half on an inning. Starting with Vanderbilt's seven runs in the second inning, the two teams would trade punches throughout en route to 24 total runs, 33 total hits and four errors on defense.
As Chris Lee noted during the game, it's not as if these two teams are challenged on their pitching staffs. Mississippi State has a stellar set of pitchers, and is 10th in the NCAA with a 2.66 team ERA, but Vanderbilt was dialed in all day:
All of Vanderbilt's starters recorded a hit, and five of those starters managed to record multi-hit days in what turned out to be an exciting game for fans who love the ball flying all over the yard when they come to catch a game.
An error by Bulldogs' starting shortstop Adam Frazier opened up the floodgates for the Commodores in this one.
Conrad Gregor was then hit by a pitch, and that started a streak where Vanderbilt would score four runs before the first out was recorded in the inning. Tony Kemp's sacrifice fly made it 4-0 by that time, and the Commodores added three more in the frame before finally bowing out.
After adding another in the third on a Kemp single, Mississippi State woke up.
The Bulldogs got four runs over their next two innings on offense, pushing the score to 8-4 and giving fans hope that there was life in the idea that a comeback was there for the taking at the Hoover Met.
The fifth inning closed down that theory.
Vandy added five more runs to the frame, pushing the lead to 13-4 and ending the majority of the threat on the evening. Mississippi State managed to make Commodore fans sweat by scoring runs in each of the next three innings, but by that time, Vanderbilt had added two more runs and the air came out of the Mississippi State dugout.
Both teams kept the half-inning sheet clean for the final frame, the first time that happened since the first inning.
Standout center fielder Connor Harrell had three hits to co-lead the Commodores in that department, while Gregor and Kemp both had three RBI to lead the team on the afternoon. With three Mississippi State errors, five of the 16 runs scored were unearned.
The Bulldogs used seven pitchers on the afternoon, none of which made it through more than three innings. Daryl Norris pitched three full frames after coming on Chad Girodo after he took over for starter Jacob Lindgren in the run-heavy second.
Hunter Renfroe finished with three hits and two RBI to lead Mississippi State on offense.
Vanderbilt will take on LSU in the final as the top two seeds in the SEC managed to navigate their way through to the final game.
The tournament championship is scheduled for Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
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