College baseball's top team will look to add some hardware in the 2022 SEC tournament.
The No. 1 Tennessee Volunteers won't have it easy as they head into the postseason, as their conference is home to some of the best talent in the country. Texas A&M (6), Arkansas (7), Auburn (19) and Vanderbilt (21) are all among the top 25 as of Saturday, with LSU only recently dropping out of that elite group.
The Volunteers (49-7, 25-5 conference) have the top seed as winners of the SEC West and regular-season conference champions. The No. 2 seed belongs to Texas A&M, who beat out Arkansas for the SEC East crown. The two teams came into Saturday with identical conference records at 18-11; the Aggies beat Ole Miss 12-5, while the Razorbacks were blown out by Alabama 18-5.
It's been a disappointing season for Mississippi State, last year's College World Series champions. The Bulldogs join Missouri as the two SEC teams that failed to qualify for this year's tournament.
SEC Tournament Bracket and Schedule
The 2022 SEC baseball tournament will take place from May 24-29 at the Hoover Metropolitan Complex in Hoover, Alabama. All games will be on the SEC Network except for the championship game, which will be at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2. The full bracket and standings can be found here.
Tuesday, May 24 (First Round, Single Elimination)
No. 11 Alabama vs. No. 6 Georgia, 10:30 a.m. ET
No. 10 South Carolina vs. No. 7 Florida, 2 p.m. ET
No. 9 Mississippi vs. No. 8 Vanderbilt, 5:30 p.m. ET
No. 12 Kentucky vs. No. 5 Auburn, 9 p.m. ET
Wednesday, May 25 (Second Round, Double Elimination)
No. 3 Arkansas vs. Alabama/Georgia winner, 10:30 a.m. ET
No. 2 Texas A&M vs. South Carolina/Florida winner, TBD
No. 1 Tennessee vs. Mississippi/Vanderbilt, 5:30 p.m. ET
No. 4 LSU vs. Kentucky/Auburn, 9 p.m. ET
Thursday, May 26 (Third Round, Double Elimination)
Four games, opponents TBD
Friday, May 27 (Fourth Round, Double Elimination)
Two games, opponents TBD
Saturday, May 28 (Semifinals)
Two games, opponents TBD
Sunday, May 29 (Championship Game)
One game, opponents TBD
If you want to get an idea of who is going to make some noise in the College World Series, this tournament is one to keep an eye on. The SEC routinely sends multiple teams to the CWS, with either three or four squads qualifying in each edition since 2015. Recent champions include the aforementioned Mississippi State, Vanderbilt (2014, 2019), Florida (2017).
Tennessee will be hoping the SEC tournament can serve as a springboard to CWS success. The Volunteers won 3 SEC tournament titles from 1993 to 1995, but those years saw the tournament divided between East and West. They've never won it outright.
If this team can't do it, it's hard to imagine who will. The Volunteers have the best pitching staff in Division I with a team 2.31 ERA, nearly a full point lower than second-best Southern Mississippi. Sophomore Chase Dollander (2.30 ERA) and freshman Chase Burns (2.34 ERA) pace the staff in that category. Another freshman, Drew Beam (2.54 ERA) isn't far behind. That trio will make the Volunteers tough to beat in any tournament format.
Hitting isn't a problem either, with the team boasting a .313 batting average, tied for ninth in the country. There's power across the lineup, as eight players have smacked at least 10 home runs this season. Third baseman Trey Lipscomb paces the squad with 20 homers and 72 RBI, while Catcher/outfielder Evan Russell hit his 38th career home run on Saturday, tying the great Todd Helton for the most in Volunteers history.
There's no sign this team is letting up either, as the Volunteers beat the Bulldogs 27-2 on Thursday as part of a three-game sweep to close out the regular season.
It's going to be tough to overcome the Tennessee juggernaut, but it's not impossible in the high-stakes tournament format. All it takes is a few cold bats or a couple of off nights on the mound for another team to take the crown.
Vanderbilt is a perennial postseason threat. The Commodores pitching staff is ninth in Division I with a 3.58 ERA. Then again, they aren't impervious to meltdowns, as fourth-seeded LSU put together a statement win against them on Saturday, scoring 17 runs in the final three innings to win 21-10.
The second-seeded Aggies closed the regular season on a high note, winning five of their final six games. Last year's tournament champions, Arkansas, are also one to watch in the third seed. Perhaps Kentucky can conjure up some magic from the 12th seed. After all, the Wildcats did manage to take two out of three games against the Volunteers earlier this month.