With an automatic NCAA tournament bid on the line, the 12 teams competing in the 2014 SEC baseball tournament will be fighting hard to ensure the opportunity to play more baseball this season.
The SEC tournament will work as a single-elimination tournament for the first round of play. It will then move to double elimination until the semifinals, when it will revert back to single elimination. The entire tournament will conclude May 25, with 17 games being played in just six days.
If you love college baseball, then the next six days are for you. Be sure you don't miss Day 1 of the action, as it will set the table for the remainder of the tournament.
Below is a full schedule for Day 1 along with predictions for each of the four games.
|SEC Tournament Schedule - Day 1|
|Game #||Date||Time (ET)||Matchup||Prediction|
|1||May 20||9:30 a.m.||Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee||Vanderbilt, 5-4|
|2||May 20||TBD||Arkansas vs. Texas A&M||Arkansas, 7-6|
|3||May 20||4:30 p.m.||Alabama vs. Kentucky||Kentucky, 4-0|
|4||May 20||TBD||Mississippi State vs. Georgia||Georgia, 6-3|
Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee
Vanderbilt was close to not being in this position, but a series loss against the South Carolina Gamecocks last weekend has forced them into this win-or-go-home situation.
That could prove to be detrimental to the Commodores' season, as the SEC conference tournament is notorious for being the toughest one in the country. That rings true even early on, as No. 11 Tennessee is a tough opponent.
The Volunteers have one of the hottest hitters in the country at their disposal. Senior third baseman Taylor Smart raked last week, hitting .438 with two homers and six RBI. Both homers came against No. 1 Florida.
That said, Vandy has a hot bat of its own.
Second baseman Dansby Swanson has been stellar at the plate during his sophomore campaign. He owns a .340 average with three home runs and 30 RBI. That comes as a huge improvement over last season's .188 clip.
Swanson is also quite the fielder, as evidenced by this SportsCenter highlight play he made last weekend:
Look for Swanson to lead his team to a win in this elimination game.
Prediction: Vanderbilt, 5-4
Mississippi State vs. Georgia
Game 4 of Day 1 will feature the Battle of the Bulldogs, as Mississippi State will look to advance past Georgia.
MSU coach John Cohen has recently expressed concern over his team's approach at the plate in the early portion of games. Oftentimes, MSU will come out flat in the first several innings before turning it on in the last half of games. This is what he told The Mississippi Press after losing to Alabama last weekend:
"We just didn't generate offense. We did a good job of competing. Our hitters are getting series [serious] about the last four or five innings and they need to be serious about nine innings."
Georgia is a team that MSU needs to jump on early, otherwise it might not have a chance to win. Robert Tyler, named the SEC Pitcher of the Week May 12, is a dominant starter that needs to get roughed up before he gets in a groove.
He shut down Ole Miss to earn the SEC honor, and Georgia's official athletics website broke down his performance:
Tyler became the first Bulldog in eight years to toss a complete game SEC shutout on the road. He did it in front of 8,158 at Swayze Field with no walks and four strikeouts. He allowed a leadoff double in the first and then just two singles the rest of the contest, facing 32 batter overall and holding the Rebels to a .096 batting average.
That type of dominance will be hard to compete with. That said, he did allow a double to start the game. If MSU can get a similar start and then play small ball to move the runner over and score him, then that will be an early hole for Georgia to contend with. That has proven difficult for them, however.
In elimination games, it's all about the team that starts out hot. That hasn't been MSU lately.
Prediction: Georgia, 6-3