The SEC East reigned supreme at the conference baseball tournament Saturday. Now its top two teams battle each other for all the marbles.
No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 4 Florida square off Sunday for the SEC tournament championship after the Commodores knocked off No. 3 Texas A&M and the Gators upset No. 1 LSU in the semifinals.
Sunday’s championship winner earns an automatic spot in the NCAA tournament (although both are certainly on their way to postseason qualifications after dominant seasons in arguably the nation’s toughest league) and conference bragging rights for the entire offseason.
Here is a look at the schedule and a prediction for the clash.
2015 SEC Championship Game
Matchup: No. 2 Vanderbilt vs. No. 4 Florida
Date: Sunday, May 24
Time: 3:30 p.m. CT, 4:30 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN 2
Preview and Prediction
Vanderbilt appears to be a full-on offensive juggernaut at this point.
It won its semifinal clash with Texas A&M, 12-3, and Friday’s game against Alabama, 16-1. That’s right, the Commodores have 28 runs in the past two games alone. It could be the Kansas City Royals taking on Vanderbilt Sunday, and they would have a hard time keeping up with that type of offensive production.
Despite the red-hot bats, the Commodores do have a loss in this tournament. They fell Thursday against Texas A&M but bounced back with vengeance Saturday against those same Aggies.
Right fielder Rhett Wiseman discussed his team’s position and determination, per SECSports.com:
This is big time baseball right here. This is playoff baseball. If we can play well in these types of situations then we'll be good to go.
This team is young. There are a lot of young guys on this team and a lot of new energy. I think the dynamic of this team is different than teams in the past. There's a lot of good stuff going on in the dugout and on the field.
Vanderbilt dominated at the plate the past two contests because the heart of its order is absolutely brutal on opposing pitching staffs.
The combination of Wiseman, shortstop Dansby Swanson, first baseman Zander Wiel and third baseman Will Toffey is as good of a four-man group as you will find in the country. These players all boast a .300 or better batting average on the season and bring power to the dish.
Swanson in particular has made an impression, as Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com noted:
There are potential Major League Baseball careers down the line for these Commodores, but they first have one more pitching staff to abuse on the way to an SEC crown.
As for their opponent, Florida, the Gators also have a loss in this tournament. They dropped Wednesday’s contest against Arkansas but got revenge in a similar fashion to Vanderbilt with a 10-0 win over the Razorbacks Friday. Florida also thrilled its fans with a 2-1 win over No. 1 seed LSU and destroyed Auburn Thursday, 11-2.
The Gators have plenty of momentum of their own after the revenge win over Arkansas and the heart-pounding victory over LSU.
Florida also has the mental edge that comes with its two victories in three regular-season matchups against Vanderbilt. Those games even came in Nashville, and the Gators prevailed.
What’s more, history has not been kind to Vanderbilt at this stage of the SEC tournament. This is its eighth appearance in the past 12 conference finals under coach Tim Corbin, but it is a lackluster 1-6 with the title on the line in that span.
The Commodores only have two SEC tournament championships and seven second-place finishes in nine all-time finals appearances.
Interestingly, both teams will be relatively fresh in the pitching department. Vanderbilt conserved much of its bullpen with two consecutive blowout wins, and Florida still hasn’t used much of the middle portion of the bullpen or its midweek starters from the regular season.
The fact that there is no discernible advantage from a pitching fatigue factor favors the red-hot offense.
Vanderbilt may not boast an impressive past in the SEC tournament title game, but the defending national champion has looked unbeatable its past two contests. With Swanson anchoring the lineup, the Gators will not be able to contain the Commodores’ attack and will ultimately fall to the No. 2 seed.
Then Vanderbilt can turn its attention toward defending its national crown.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 7, Florida 3