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SEC Tournament Packs Punch

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SEC Tournament Packs Punch

Post  Carolina Kat on Tue May 25, 2010 12:55 pm

Commentary: SEC tourney packs punch

Field includes five ranked teams and the defending national champion

Posted on 05.25.10

Neil White, The State
nwhite@thestate.com


SEC TOURNAMENT PAIRINGS

WEDNESDAY

Game 1: 9:30 a.m., No. 7 Alabama vs No. 2 Auburn
Game 2: TBD, No. 6 Ole Miss vs. No. 3 South Carolina
Game 3: 4:30 p.m., No. 8 LSU vs. No. 1 Florida
Game 4: TBD, No. 5 Vanderbilt vs. No. 4 Arkansas

THURSDAY

Game 5: 9:30 a.m., Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2
Game 6: TBD, Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4
Game 7: 4:30 p.m., Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2
Game 8: TBD, Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4

FRIDAY

Game 9: 3 p.m., Winner Game 5 vs. Loser Game 7
Game 10: TBD, Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 8

SATURDAY

Game 11: 9:30 a.m., Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 9
Game 12: TBD, Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 10
*Game 13: 5 p.m., Winner Game 11 vs. Loser Game 11
*Game 14: TBD, Winner Game 12 vs. Loser Game 12

SUNDAY

Game 15: 1 p.m., Championship
* – If both bracket winners are undefeated, there will be no games 13 or 14 on Saturday and the championship game Sunday would be Game 13.
* – If games 13 or 14 are necessary, they will be 7-inning games.


If you need more evidence of how loaded the SEC baseball tournament is, look in the direction of the No. 8 seed in the eight-team bracket.

That’s right, it’s LSU. Remember the Tigers? They’re the defending national champions, as well as the two-time defending SEC tournament champions. But a strong eighth seed isn’t unusual. In five of the past six league tournaments at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala., the No. 8 team has defeated the top seed in the opening round.

Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan, whose team won the regular-season title with a 22-8 conference mark, believes the numbers next to the teams mean nothing.

“There really is no difference between the eighth seed and the first seed, especially when you’re facing a guy like (LSU ace right-hander) Anthony Ranaudo,” he said.

Arkansas showed the depth of the conference last season when it entered the SEC tournament as the No. 7 seed and finished the year as one of the last four teams standing at the College World Series. This season the top five seeds also reside in Baseball America’s Top 25: No. 4 Florida, No. 10 USC, No. 13 Auburn, No. 15 Arkansas and No. 24 Vanderbilt.

USC coach Ray Tanner’s team earned the No. 3 seed after a sparkling 21-9 conference season. Its reward is another faceoff with Ole Miss left-hander Drew Pomeranz, arguably the top pitcher in college baseball as well as the guy who held the Gamecocks to two bunt singles over seven shutout innings a little over a month ago. Simply put, the sixth-seeded Rebels are never out of a game when he steps on the mound, where he will oppose USC left-hander Nolan Belcher.

But that’s part of what makes the tournament fun for fans and participants, even though there’s not a whole lot at stake when it comes to postseason play. All eight teams are expected to receive NCAA tournament bids when they are announced Monday, although teams could move up or down in regional seeding depending on how they fare this week.

“Everybody is positioned pretty well,” said Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard, whose seventh-seeded Crimson Tide plays rival Auburn, the Western Division champ, in the first game of the tournament Wednesday morning.

Having both Alabama schools playing in the tournament will add some drama that has been missing in recent seasons, with Auburn not having qualified for the previous six trips to Hoover. Auburn coach John Pawlowski called the matchup “intriguing, enticing, exciting for the fans.”

Auburn’s powerful lineup, backed by better pitching this season, became the talk of the league down the stretch of the regular season. The red-hot Tigers have the look of a potential winner, but they could be derailed by the team they hate to lose to most. You can bet a sellout crowd will jam the ballpark despite the 9:30 a.m. Central time start.

Determining which team will make the winning run through Sunday’s championship game is never easy. Florida certainly enters as the favorite based on its seasonlong excellence, but the Gators have to wonder if they’re going to see the LSU team that started the season 32-6 and ranked in the top five nationally or the one that went 4-14 the past month and had to win twice during the final weekend to sneak into the tournament.

“It’s a whole new season now,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.

LSU was the top seed last season and lost to Vanderbilt on the first day, so he understands there are no guarantees. Although his team roared back through the losers’ bracket to win the tournament, it wasn’t easy.

While every team would like to win it, some have more specific goals. Arkansas, which likely will have to play without its top two hitters, Zack Cox and Brett Eibner, due to injuries, wants to get healthy before NCAA play. Ole Miss, which lost seven of its last eight games in the SEC, simply hopes to play better.

“Our concern now is to get back on track,” Mississippi coach Mike Bianco said.

Fifth-seeded Vanderbilt is shooting for a bid as an NCAA regional host. The traditionally pitching-rich Commodores won the 2007 tournament and finished runner-up to LSU last season. Because Regions Park is so spacious, it rewards teams that pitch and play defense well and don’t rely on home runs.

“It’s a legitimate pitchers’ ballpark,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said. “We’ve pitched well there before, and we intend to pitch well there again. We do have a comfort level there.”

Given the good job the city of Hoover does hosting the annual affair, everybody’s pretty comfortable with the atmosphere, even if their tourney run is a short one.

Tanner would prefer to enjoy the hospitality through the weekend.

Carolina Kat
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