The top eight teams in the conference – LSU, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas and Vanderbilt – will square off against each other throughout the weekend in a double-elimination playoff. CSS and Fox Sports Network will televise the action, Sirius and XM will beam it live to your car radio, and Birmingham Weekly will be live-blogging whenever the Crimson Tide takes the field.
Yes, the same folks that brought you A-Day in Tuscaloosa (myself and Jesse Chambers) will be bringing you hours of second-by-second updates from Regions Park. We’ll be live-blogging each Alabama game (you’re guaranteed at least two), as well as the championship game on Sunday, May 24. The Auburn Tigers, as has been the trend over the last several years, did not make the tournament. (That was a preemptive move to halt your “You’re in the can for Bama” bitching.)
So, be sure to log on to that spiffy new Web site now through Sunday for all that. There’s a money back guarantee if you’re not satisfied. I don’t even care if you swear on the live chat. Really, I don’t!
But before we start chatting each other up over these next few days, it would help if you had a primer on the teams taking part in the 2009 tourney. With that in mind, here’s a taste of who’s hot and who’s not heading into the weekend’s action:
The Commodores are limping into the tourney as the lowest seeded team in the field. Vandy dropped seven of its final 11 regular season games and was swept by Tennessee in their last series. In fact, only Florida’s 2-1 series win over Kentucky kept the Wildcats from securing the final seed. Vandy’s best two hitters are designated hitter Aaron Westlake (.382 BA, 78 hits) and first baseman Curt Casali (who leads the team in RBI with 52). Outfielder Steven Liddle leads the team in home runs with nine. Freshman Sonny Gray is one of the leaders of the Commodores’ pitching staff, which has a 4.97 staff ERA.
One of the conference’s hottest teams, South Carolina is riding a seven-game win streak into Hoover this weekend. The Gamecocks have won 10 of their last 11 games, including a sweep of Georgia at home last weekend. First baseman Nick Ebert and outfielder DeAngelo Mack are among the league’s most explosive offensive players. Ebert leads the team in slugging percentage (.777) and on-base percentage (.488). He’s batting .341 overall with 22 homers and 70 RBI. Mack currently owns a 17-game hit streak and is batting .374 overall. Junior right-hander Blake Cooper is the team’s top pitcher with a 4.61 ERA.
The Rebs collected a share of the SEC regular-season championship with a sweep of the Arkansas Razorbacks last weekend. The series win gave Ole Miss (40-15) only their second 40-win season in school history. The team is 16-7 over its last 23 games. Ole Miss has prospered due to a strong pitching staff, lead by Drew Pomeranz (3.95 ERA, 82 strikeouts, 28 walks, 6-3 overall) and Phillip Irwin (3.82 ERA, 59 strikeouts, 18 walks, 7-3 overall). The bullpen has been solid as well with Rory McKean (five wins in relief this season) and Jake Morgan (eight saves, 1.85 ERA). First baseman Matt Smith has 68 hits this season, while outfielder Logan Power has a team-best 52 RBIs. Second baseman Tim Ferguson leads the team in batting average, hitting .363 on the year.
Traditional SEC powerhouse LSU is back on top with a No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament and a share of the regular season title (their first since 2003). The Tigers finished with 20 conference wins, the same as the Ole Miss Rebels, giving each a piece of the regular-season crown. LSU won nine of its 10 conference series this season, including a 2-1 series win over Mississippi State last weekend. Sophomore right-hander Anthony Ranaudo leads the SEC with 118 strikeouts this season, while Louis Coleman leads the conference in wins with 10. LSU is one of the league’s most feared hitting teams, led by 2B DJ LeMahieu (.350 BA, 29 RBI).
The Bulldogs enter the SEC tourney as a sixth seed after being swept by South Carolina in Columbia. Georgia’s primary pitching rotation of Trevor Holder, Alex McRee and Justin Grimm has combined for a 13-11 overall record and an average ERA of 4.69. First baseman Rich Poythress is third in the SEC with 77 RBI. He ranks at or near the top of the conference in eight statistical categories. This season’s team has been particularly reliant on freshman, as eight newcomers have combined for more than 200 starts. Georgia completed the season with a 35-20 record, including a 15-15 mark in the conference.
The Gators captured the SEC East title this season after taking two out of three from Kentucky in their final series of the regular season. Florida’s a hitting team – six players with at least 20 starts are batting better than .320 this season. Freshman Preston Tucker is the team’s power hitter, slugging .576 with 71 RBI, 11 home runs and 71 hits. Overall, Florida has scored 417 runs on 596 hits this season. Pitching has been strong as well, as the Gators own a 4.20 overall ERA. Billy Bullock has a 1.51 ERA through 41.2 innings pitched. Tony Davis has a 5-0 record through 34 innings pitched with a 2.65 ERA. Batters are only hitting .200 against Davis this season.
The Razorbacks, like Vanderbilt, have struggled down the stretch. Arkansas was swept in their final two series and managed only one win in their final nine games. Runs have been hard to come by in May, as the Hogs have scored three runs or less six times over those last nine games. Scott Lyons, Andy Wilkins and Ben Tschepikow have led Arkansas at the plate, scoring 113 of the team’s 318 runs. They each have batted in 38 runs. Lyons has the most hits (62), Wilkins the most home runs (15) and Tschepikow the most at-bats (198). Dallas Keuchel leads the pitching staff with a 7-3 record. Through 83.1 innings pitched, Keuchel has given up 44 runs (36 earned) on 89 hits with 57 strikeouts.
Bama had a shot at a three-way piece of the SEC regular-season championship pie, but couldn’t figure out the Auburn Tigers until the final game of their three game series. The Tide finished with an 18-11 conference record and a 37-17 overall mark after dropping two of their three final games against the Tigers. Alabama is led at the plate by Kent Matthes, a senior outfielder who loves to hit ‘em long. Matthes has belted 27 homers this season, tying the all-time school record that has stood since 1986 (Doug Dukes). Matthes is second on the team in batting average (.362), first in runs (63) and RBIs (79). Taylor Dugas leads the team with 80 hits and a .364 batting average. Jake Smith has 18 home runs. Austin Hyatt is the Tide’s leader on the mound, compiling an 8-1 record and a 2.96 ERA through 97.1 innings pitched.
2009 SEC BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
When: May 20-24
Where: Regions Park, Hoover, Ala. (10,800)
Tournament Style: Eight-team, double-elimination
TV: CSS (Wed.-Thurs.), FSN (Fri.-Sun.)
Radio: Sirius 216, XM 199
Internet: Live Coverage of Alabama baseball at BhamWeekly.com
Seeding: 1. LSU, 2. Florida, 3. Ole Miss, 4. Alabama, 5. South Carolina, 6. Georgia, 7. Arkansas, 8. Vanderbilt