The action is getting more and more exclusive at the 2015 SEC baseball tournament, as only four schools will be left standing after Friday's games.
While 2-0 squads LSU and Texas A&M already punched their tickets into Saturday's semifinals, two others have to survive elimination games Friday before getting to face one of the two. And in somewhat surprising fashion, not all of the teams are NCAA tournament shoo-ins as 11th-seeded Alabama hopes to continue bolstering its resume.
Let's take a look at Friday's action and make some predictions for each contest.
Friday, May 22 SEC Tournament Schedule
|13||No. 11 Alabama vs. No. 2 Vanderbilt||4 p.m.||SEC Network||Alabama 4-3|
|14||No. 4 Florida vs. No. 5 Arkansas||7:30 p.m.||SEC Network||Florida 5-3|
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Game of the Day: No. 11 Alabama vs. No. 2 Vanderbilt
Two teams with very different, yet similar reasons for motivation will battle in the first of two elimination games Friday with second-seeded Vanderbilt facing conference Cinderellas Alabama.
The 11th-seeded Crimson Tide entered Hoover, Alabama, so far from NCAA contention that a championship was almost demanded to get them in. Spectacularly enough, they aren't far from accomplishing that with a lone loss to Texas A&M sandwiched in between two impressive wins over Ole Miss and Missouri.
Throughout the tournament, Alabama has proven it can play with anyone in the conference. However, that will be tested in full force by the defending national champions.
Vanderbilt has shown no signs of slowing in its national title defense this season, remaining on the cusp of securing a top-eight national seed and hosting a super regional. But the Commodores haven't helped themselves so far in Hoover, having to walk off against Missouri before Texas A&M pounced on ace pitcher Carson Fulmer in a 6-1 loss.
Although another bad loss could bounce them from the top eight, head coach Tim Corbin isn't panicking, per the Tennessean's Adam Sparks: "Our backs aren't against the wall because today will have nothing to do with tomorrow [Friday]. Just a good baseball game, and we will be excited to play again. ... It's just one game. That's all it is, just one game."
If the 'Dores don't want one game to turn into two, they will have to get the best of Alabama pitcher Will Carter early just as Texas A&M did of their ace the day before. Carter isn't a regular weekend starter and is just 4-5 on the season—as is typically the case late in the conference tournament.
Drew Champlin of AL.com reported head coach Mitch Gaspard's thoughts on leaning on Carter with the season on the line, even after resting him lately: "We really put him on the shelf and he's come back and his last three outings have been really good. He's a big arm that's going to be in the mid- 90's."
Carter may not be Alabama's best pitcher, but he's fresh and can break the speed gun. That's a recipe for dominance against a slumping lineup such as Vandy's.
Although the Commodores have turned heads by jacking five home runs in the last two games, it hasn't resulted in strong hitting. Vanderbilt is a lowly 12-for-65 (.185) as a unit in Hoover.
That may not continue at those drastic levels Friday, but it won't have to. Alabama's offense is generating runs any way it can with its baseball livelihood on the line, and will be enough to oust one of the conference's darlings to continue the Crimson Tide's incredible run.
Prediction: Alabama 4, Vanderbilt 3