No doubt the NCAA Baseball Selection Committee wanted a taste of the SEC when it set up the seeding for the NCAA Baseball Tournament.
How could it not want an SEC presence in the College World Series that beings June 16 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb?
Year in and year out, the SEC has been the nation’s most dominant and competitive baseball conference for a couple of decades.
Ten of 14 SEC squads earned bids to this year’s tournament, and many thought it should have been 11. Kentucky’s conference record kept the Wildcats just out of the NCAA mix this year after a season of struggles with injuries, but there is no squad that made the 64-team field that would have relished facing Kentucky in a regional last week.
The SEC is that strong.
While the NCAA does want some SEC flavor in Omaha next week, it didn’t want drown the College World Series in SEC sauce. It wouldn’t be good for the game if the CWS looked more like the SEC Tournament Part 2 than a national tournament.
That’s why you’ll see the six SEC squads that advanced to this weekend’s eight Super Regionals facing each other.
The SEC will have no more but no less than three teams advance to Omaha next week with Vanderbilt (34-25) hosting Mississippi State (35-26) in a best-of-three series beginning on Friday, and Florida (45-18) hosting Auburn (45-21) and Arkansas (42-18) hosting South Carolina (36-24) in series that begin Saturday.
No other conference advanced more than two teams into the Super Regionals. North Carolina and Duke of the ACC and Texas Tech and Texas of the Big 12 are in Super Regionals, but they are not matched up against conference rivals.
There is no way the NCAA Selection Committee could have predicted exactly which teams would advance to the Super Regionals, but with the 64-team tournament seeded only through the top 16, it did allow the committee to play a little chess with the placement of unseeded SEC teams.
With 10 SEC teams in the tournament, it was inevitable that SEC squads would be facing each other at some point. The NCAA did avoid placing two SEC squads in the same regional last week.
So, six SEC squads will cannibalize themselves this weekend. As Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said earlier this week, it’s not an ideal situation.
It’s particularly tougher on the higher SEC seeds who have to face an opponent that knows them very well.
Florida and Auburn were ranked in the top 12 in the nation most of the season, and they are facing each other in a three-game series this weekend. Seed the tournament a bit differently, and that conceivably could have been a national title matchup.
Arkansas and South Carolina will play each other for the fifth and sixth time Saturday at 5:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. They could play for the seventh time Monday at 6 p.m., if necessary.
The Razorbacks won three of the four games by scores of 2-0, 3-0 in the regular-season series, and 13-8 in the SEC Tournament. The Gamecocks upended the Razorbacks, 3-2, in the first game of the regular-season series at Baum Stadium on April 12. South Carolina is the only SEC team to win at Baum Stadium this season.
The outcomes of those previous four games mean nothing at this juncture, but what each team learned about the other should make this series very exciting, but also very nerve-wracking for Hog fans. There are no secrets between the Hogs and the Gamecocks. There won’t be any surprises.
Now, the Razorbacks played excellent baseball last weekend. Hog fans got the best of both worlds as Arkansas cruised through victories over Oral Roberts, 10-2, and Southern Miss, 10-2, but then were tested mightily in a 4-3 victory over Dallas Baptist.
However, South Carolina played just as well to win the Greenville Regional by defeating Ohio State, 8-3, East Carolina, 4-2, and UNC Wilmington, 8-4.
Over the course of the year, the Razorbacks have been the better of the two teams. One could argue the Hogs have even stepped their play up a notch in the postseason.
While the Gamecocks won’t be intimidated to play at Baum Stadium, the energy created by Razorback fans in the nation’s finest on-campus baseball park tilts the board in the Hogs’ favor no matter how well South Carolina is playing.
This Razorback squad also has a resilience that’s uncommon. While the Hogs have had their fair share of dominating performances. they have often been at their best in difficult situations.
It’s hard to make a convincing argument against the Hogs advancing to Omaha, but South Carolina is a proud program and a dangerous opponent.
Just like in any SEC baseball series, nothing can be taken for granted.
Games begin Friday, June 8 – All times are Central
No. 14 Minnesota (44-13) at No. 3 Oregon St. (47-10-1)
4 p.m. (ESPN2), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN2), *9 p.m. (ESPN2)
No. 11 Stetson (48-11) at No. 6 North Carolina (41-18)
10 a.m. (ESPN2), 11 a.m., (ESPN2), *11 a.m. (ESPN2)
Washington (33-23) at Cal St. Fullerton (35-23)
1 p.m. (ESPN2), 5:30 p.m. (ESPNU), *8 p.m. (ESPNU)
Mississippi St. (35-26) at Vanderbilt (34-25)
7 p.m. (ESPN2), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN), *5 p.m. (ESPN2)
Games begin Saturday, June 9 – All times are Eastern
Auburn (42-21) at No. 1 Florida (45-18)
11 a.m. (ESPN), 11 a.m. (ESPN), *7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Duke (44-15) at No. 9 Texas Tech (42-17)
2 p.m. (ESPNU), 5 p.m. (ESPNU), *3 p.m. (ESPN2)
South Carolina (36-24) at No. 5 Arkansas (42-18)
5:30 p.m. (ESPN2), 2 p.m. (ESPN), *6 p.m. (ESPN)
Tennessee Tech (52-9) at No. 13 Texas (40-20)
2 p.m. (ESPN2), 2 p.m. (ESPN2), *Noon (ESPN2)
*Game times and ESPN Network subject to change
Tough Start for Beeks
Former Razorback pitcher Jalen Beeks got his first Major League start Thursday for the Boston Red Sox, but it proved to be a tough debut for the lefty from Prairie Grove.
The Detroit Tigers defeated the Red Sox, 7-2, roughing up Beeks in the first inning. After he struck out JaCoby Jones, the Tigers scored five, first-inning runs, including a homer by Leonys Martin. Beeks pitched four innings, giving up seven hits and three walks for six runs.
Despite the tough start, Red Sox manager Alex Cora had some encouraging words, according to the Boston Herald, for the 24-year-old, who was called up from Class AAA Pawtucket to replace Drew Pomeranz, who went on the 10-day disabled list.
“He competed. After that first inning, he kept going, he kept attacking and he made some adjustments, so we’re proud of the way he competed (last night). He’ll be fine. He’s a good pitcher. He has a bright future. We really like the way he competed after that. He didn’t let it bother him. He kept competing, he gave us four,” Cora said to the Boston Herald.
Cora continued in the Boston Herald, “It wasn’t the start that he wanted, what we wanted from him, but I think it’s a step. It’s going to help him out for him to keep developing at this level. We’ve been talking throughout the season, it’s very important to mix up your pitches, and he learned that in the first inning, and after that he was OK.