Before the weekend starts, another two of the six remaining SEC teams will get shown the door from this year's tournament.
On Thursday, Missouri and Auburn met their makers, each suffering their second loss of the double-elimination playoff. While Vanderbilt and Arkansas also fell on the wrong side of Thursday's scoreboard, they both get another chance to stay alive during Friday's two elimination showdowns.
As several potent squads live to fight another day, one underdog has a chance to sneak into the SEC's final four.
|Friday SEC Tournament Schedule (Fourth Round)|
|4 p.m.||No. 2 Vanderbilt vs. No. 11 Alabama||SEC Network||Vanderbilt 7-4|
|TBD||No. 4 Florida vs. No. 5 Arkansas||SEC Network||Florida 8-3|
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Game of the Day: No. 2 Vanderbilt vs. No. 11 Alabama
This isn't football, which takes top precedence at Alabama. Not a Nick Saban-ran juggernaut, the Crimson Tide entered the SEC tournament seeded No. 11 among a dozen participants. Yet, they will have already lasted longer than five higher-seeded clubs before taking the field on Friday.
Tasked with a first-round elimination game, they beat No. 6 Ole Miss, 6-1, behind a complete-game gem from Geoffrey Bramblett. The sophomore yielded one run, struck out 10 and allowed zero walks, advancing Alabama past the favorite.
The club suffered a 4-3 loss to Texas A&M, who broke the tie in the bottom of the eighth. The Aggies then avoided a rematch by pummeling No. 2 Vanderbilt on Thursday night, giving Alabama a foe with 40 victories and a No. 12 rating in the NCAA RPI.
Before getting that opportunity, Alabama overcame a 3-1 deficit to circumvent Missouri. Catcher Will Haynie, a three true-outcome slugger hitting .198, belted the game-winning homer during the seventh inning, his eighth of the year.
Haynie discussed his approach going against Missouri hurler Tanner Houck to AL.com's Drew Champlin.
"He kind of got it on my hands the previous two at-bats so I backed off the plate and I knew he was going to attack with fastballs," Haynie said. "I got a good pitch up in the zone and put a good swing on it."
SEC Network analyst Ben McDonald marveled the moon shot, per the SEC Network's Twitter account:
Despite a 3.92 team ERA, 32-27 record and 12-18 mark in SEC play, Alabama remains standing. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt needed extra innings to outlast the same Tigers tamed by Alabama.
That was before surrendering five runs to Texas A&M during Thursday's first inning. Even more jarring for the No. 2 seed, ace Carson Fulmer caused the damage.
Fulmer—recently projected to go No. 8 in the upcoming MLB amateur draft by ESPN Insider Keith Law—entered the bout with a 1.51 ERA and 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings. MLB.com's Jim Callis highlighted the bombing's oddity given the righty's prior dominance:
After unsuccessfully employing its ace in defeat, Vanderbilt will likely turn to Walker Buehler, tabbed as Law's No. 10 pick. The righty has notched a 2.97 ERA during his junior year.
Vanderbilt's dearth of MLB talent doesn't stop on the mound. Shortstop Dansby Swanson, a potential No. 1 pick, has crushed three homers during two tournament games. Hitting .353/.440/.656 on the year, he'll prove a major reason why Alabama's run expires on Friday.