SEC baseball weekend preview: What's at stake with one week left until Hoover?
We have arrived at the final weekend of SEC Baseball, leaving just the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama next week left before the NCAA Tournament and the Road to Omaha begins.
Still, though, there is a lot to play for this weekend. By Saturday night, we will know both the full bracket for the conference tournament and the newly-crowned regular season SEC Champion.
I went through each series and laid out everything you need to know heading into this final weekend with a quick glimpse ahead to the postseason.
Ole Miss (25-26, 6-21 SEC) at Alabama (35-17, 13-14 SEC)
Since Brad Bohannon’s gambling scandal and subsequent firing, Alabama has won back-to-back series against Vanderbilt and Texas A&M. Over that span their pitching staff has only allowed 19 runs (3.2 runs per game), lowering their season team ERA to 4.08, third-best in the SEC.
Keeping their pitching going strong will be critical in this final weekend against a struggling Ole Miss squad to maintain momentum and create a strong rhythm heading into the postseason.
On the other side, the Rebels enter the final weekend as the only team out of SEC Tournament contention, less than a year removed from winning the National Championship. In what has been, by far, the worst season under Coach Mike Bianco, the Rebs patiently await a merciful finish.
Texas A&M (30-22, 12-15 SEC) at Mississippi State (26-24, 8-19 SEC)
It will be an uphill battle for Mississippi State entering this weekend, even after a shocking series win in Baton Rouge this past weekend.
While they are mathematically still in the hunt for a trip to Hoover their series with the Aggies this weekend is a must-win, plain and simple. If they lose the series, they are eliminated from tournament qualification. Even with a series win, it won’t be an easy ride, they’ll need numerous results across the conference to go their way to sneak past Georgia and Missouri for the final spot.
With that said, though, if there were ever a team able to put themselves in contention, it would be the Mississippi State Bulldogs playing in front of a ramped-up crowd at The Dude with the season on the line.
Standing in front of them is a Texas A&M team that is looking to resolidify its claim as an at-large NCAA Tournament bid after dropping the final two games of their series with Alabama last weekend by a combined score of 23-1.
For the Aggies, it will come down to the need for finding consistent starting pitching if they want to be able to put themselves in a strong position this weekend before heading to Hoover next week.
Missouri (30-20, 10-17 SEC) at Auburn (30-19-1, 14-13 SEC)
Coming off of their sweep of Georgia last weekend, Missouri has, far and away, the easiest route to Hoover of the teams remaining on the bubble. All the Tigers have to do is not get swept by Auburn, which of course is easier said than done. Even if they were to get swept it would take a Mississippi State sweep of Texas A&M and Georgia to win at least one game against LSU to stop Mizzou from reaching Hoover.
Auburn has now won four straight weekend series, including victories over LSU and South Carolina. They’re playing easily their best baseball of the season and if you’re looking for a sleeper pick to make noise in Hoover and beyond, these Tigers would be my pick, especially if they can pick up another series win to close out the season against the hungry Missouri Tigers.
Tennessee (36-17, 14-13) at South Carolina (37-15, 15-11)
South Carolina has stumbled down the final stretch of the season, going 3-9 since their series win over Florida in Columbia. Their offense, which has been the engine of success for the Gamecocks this season, has completely fallen flat, only scoring 17 runs over the past two weekends. Unfortunately for South Carolina, they’ll have to face one of the best pitching staffs in the country this weekend with the Tennessee Volunteers.
However, in what may be a saving grace for the Gamecocks, the Volunteers haven’t been able to find a way to win away from Knoxville this season. They’ve yet to win an SEC series on the road, managing to win only two games away from Lindsey Nelson Stadium all season.
This will be a big series as South Carolina looks to get back to winning ways entering and cement themselves as a Regional Hosting seed and the Volunteers will look to finally show that they can win ballgames away from their friendly confines in east Tennessee.
LSU (40-12, 17-9 SEC) at Georgia (28-24, 10-17 SEC)
Coming off the heels of their shocking series defeat to Mississippi State, LSU is trying to end their recent skid against a Georgia team trying to secure their spot in the SEC Tournament and to preserve a slim chance to receive an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
LSU still has a chance to claim the SEC Championship, but it all starts with needing a sweep over the Bulldogs to have a chance. If they do get the sweep, they’ll need Vandy to win their series against Arkansas and Kentucky to win at least one game against Florida.
But the Dawgs have developed a reputation as a giant slayer at Foley Field this season, including a sweep over Arkansas and a series victory over a red-hot Tennessee team two weekends ago.
It will be a clash of two teams with a lot to play for, with an SEC Championship and postseason berth on the line.
Florida (40-12, 18-9 SEC) at Kentucky (35-15, 15-12 SEC)
In one of the most interesting matchups of the weekend, Florida travels to Lexington with a chance to claim the SEC Regular Season Championship. To claim the Championship outright, the Gators must sweep Kentucky and hope that Vanderbilt can win their series against Arkansas.
Meanwhile, Kentucky is clamoring to hold on to a potential Super Regional host seed in the NCAA Tournament after their freefall, losing five of their last six SEC series. Luckily for the Wildcats, they have defended their home field incredibly well this season, entering the final weekend with a 24-4 record at Kroger Field, setting the stage to not only right their ship but to also play spoiler for the Gators.
Arkansas (38-13, 19-8 SEC) at Vanderbilt (35-16, 17-10 SEC)
In a series that many had circled before the season started as a potential quasi-SEC Championship series, both teams will have a chance at claiming just that.
The Hogs will control their own destiny, entering the weekend with the best record in the conference. A sweep of Vanderbilt would clinch the outright title, no matter what Florida or LSU do in their respective series. If they only win two games, they would need Florida to lose at least one game to Kentucky.
It’s a trickier path for Vanderbilt after recent setbacks, first losing their series to Alabama two weekends ago and then getting swept by Florida last weekend. For them to claim the outright title, the Commodores will have to sweep the Razorbacks, have Kentucky take two of three against the Gators, and have Georgia win at least one game against LSU.
As we expected, this should be a hotly contested series between two of college baseball’s premier programs with the SEC Crown on the line.
Follow Grayson Buchholz on Twitter - @GBuchholzNWA