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SEC Baseball weekend preview: March 22-25

Week 2 of conference play gets underway.

2017 Division I Men's College World Series - Florida v LSU - Game 2 Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Conference play is in full swing now, full pun intended. The SEC looks as strong as ever in yet again this year. There are some dynamite series on deck this weekend, so let’s get a full rundown.

Fine, no more puns.

#5 Ole Miss at #12 Texas A&M

The Rebs are 20-2 and 2-1 in the SEC. The Aggies, meanwhile, are 18-4 and 1-2 in league play. On offense, Ole Miss is led by Thomas Dillard, Grae Kessinger, and Chase Cockrell. Dillard has six home runs, nine steals, and an OBP of .462. Kessinger is second on the team in BA and walks more than he strikes out, not to mention his glove at short is stellar. Cockrell leads in BA and SLG.

On the mound, Ryan Rolison, Brady Feigl, and James McArthur comprise one of the best rotations in the SEC. With a team ERA of 2.19, there aren’t a whole lot of holes on this team.

Leading the way for the Aggies are Logan Foster, Braden Shewmake, and Michael Helman. Foster is the boom of the lineup, with six home runs and a .658 SLG. Shewmake has built off a strong freshman year and is hitting .341. Helman is the do everything guy for the Aggies. Leader in BA, OBP, TB, and is third on the team in RBI.

The two best rotations in the league might be going head to head this week. Stephen Kolek, John Dokaxis and Mitchell Kilkenny all have ERAs under two and opposing batting averages under .200. Like Ole Miss, the Aggies are strong all around. This will be a great matchup of two very similar teams.


#9 Auburn at #6 Kentucky

Auburn won their series with Texas A&M last week, but dropped a midweek matchup against Georgia Tech. A mini-two-game losing streak is not cause for concern, but this will be a great test on the road for a team who, despite having the top RPI in the nation, hasn’t really been tested all that much.

The Tigers have a sure-fire first round pick and the best pitcher in the nation in Casey Mize anchoring the rotation, who gives them a chance to win every series. Over 32.2 innings, Mize has given up just 15 hits, seven earned runs, and has 51 strikeouts and just three walks. Yes, three. Kentucky’s juggernaut will have their hands full tonight.

Kentucky got swept in rather dominating fashion at Arkansas in their first SEC matchup. They return home this week to the very friendly confines of Cliff Hagan Stadium. The Wildcats do what they do, and that’s hit. Kole Cottam and T.J. Collett have nine home runs, while Luke Heyer has 10. As a team, the Wildcats have 40 home runs. If the Cats can hit, they have a shot, as a 5.21 team ERA won’t survive very long in pitchers’ duels.


#4 Arkansas at #2 Florida

Very contrasting styles in this one. Arkansas can hit the ball well, and Florida can pitch real well. The Hogs jumped out to a 3-0 start in SEC play sweeping Kentucky, while Florida took a series from South Carolina.

The Hogs did not build off their weekend sweep, dropping a midweek game to Charlotte. But the good thing about baseball is you get to redeem yourself, and here is a golden opportunity.

Every hitter in the Hogs’ lineup hits over .300, except Dominic Fletcher, and he’s better than the .220 he’s shown so far. Remember, Fletcher hit 12 home runs and pushed .300 last season.

As for the defending National Champions, they return almost everybody from that team, and the results show so far, sitting at 19-4 and being ranked in the top three. Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and Tyler Dyson head a formidable rotation yet again, and closer Michael Byrne anchors the back end of the bullpen. Byrne was so dominant in last year’s postseason, and has yet to give up a run in 16.2 innings.

The Razorbacks have a better team ERA anchored by Blaine Knight and Isaiah Campbell, but the Gators have the pedigree on the mound. There’s a reason both of these teams are in the Top 5. This should be a good one.


#19 LSU at #8 Vanderbilt

Some would argue that LSU has underachieved this year. After all, they made the CWS final last year and returned many pieces from that squad. However, the pitching has not been great and the transition from reliever to starter for Zack Hess has not gone as expected, but he has righted the ship these last few starts which is encouraging. The team ERA of 4.37 won’t raise any eyebrows, especially in this league.

Josh Watson and Brandt Broussard lead an always potent Tiger offense. Watson is hitting .397 with a .453 OBP, while Broussard leads the team with nine steals and has a .427 OBP. Following Hess in the rotation is Caleb Gilbert and surprise freshman Ma’Khail Hilliard. Hilliard has only made two starts, but has a 0.77 ERA. Not a bad Sunday starter, is it?

Vanderbilt had some attrition off last year’s super regional team, but do everything freshman Austin Martin has lightened the blow a little. Fellow freshman Pat DeMarco has been turning heads as well. The ‘Dores start three freshmen regularly, with Jayson Gonzalez being the other. They are really good this season again, and that’s without Julian Infante struggling to crack .170. If he can get going, watch out.

On the mound, the Commodores are led by Drake Fellows on Friday nights. With a 1.91 ERA, a .181 BAA, and 36 strikeouts in 28.1 innings, that’s more than enough to win some games. LSU has a chance to get a statement series win, but Vandy’s home field is just too much.

PREDICTION: Vanderbilt

South Carolina at Georgia

South Carolina is in transition with Mark Kingston taking over in his first year as head coach, and the Bulldogs are looking to get back to the success of the Gordon Beckham and Josh Fields days. Both of these fanbases are longing to be good again.

The Gamecocks aren’t short of talent by any means with Madison Stokes, LT Tolbert, Jonah Bride and Carlos Cortes all being on the field at the same time. Cortes cracked 12 home runs last year and hit .294, so he is better then his .203 mark this year shows. On the pitching side, Adam Hill is very good and Cody Morris is a nice complement to him on Saturdays. However, Hill is missing this weekend with an injury, which is a potentially devastating blow.

Georgia is currently 15-6, stand 19th in the RPI and they won their first SEC series on the road at Alabama. Road series are never easy to win, regardless of the opponent. Keegan McGovern is playing at an All-American level with nine home runs, an OBP of .520, a .390 BA and a robust .805 SLG. Georgia’s team is Governed by Keegan on the field. Okay, that was the last one.

There is upset potential here, Georgia is playing at a high level, and South Carolina’s best pitcher is out, this series may very well come down to Friday night.


Mississippi State at Missouri

Where to begin? Mississippi State’s season didn’t start off too hot, getting swept down in Hattiesburg by Southern Miss. Shortly afterwards, coach Andy Cannizaro was fired with cause, and the Bulldogs have to play the rest of the year without a coach. That’s not a nice way to introduce a fully renovated Dudy-Noble Field.

Mizzou had a pretty surprising first year under Steve Bieser, and they have only built off that. Sitting 21st in the RPI, the Tigers are 17-5, but lost their first conference series at LSU last week. So, no shame in that.

Mississippi State is currently just 1-5 on the road, but still have enough talent to compete with anybody on their best day, with Konnor Pilkington and Jake Mangum leading the way. They will be in almost every series, but getting swept by Vanderbilt is not a great start.

The Tigers are 12-1 at home, but State is easily their best home competition. The Dogs are angry from last weekend, look for them to come out with some fire, but in the end, stability wins.


Alabama at Tennessee

It was not too long ago that both of these teams were regular postseason participants. Both programs have been trying to get back to that. Mitch Gaspard had a decent run as Bama’s head coach, then Greg Goff had a disastrous year full of violations and he got fired. Brad Bohannon is now the coach, and he has them off to a 16-6 start, with a win against a pretty good Southern Miss team.

This Bama team can hit the ball well, as they have a .300 team batting average with 21 home runs. Chandler Taylor has nine of the dingers, while Chandler Avant leads the team with a .391 BA. They pitch to a 3.06 ERA, so the numbers are there. The Tide just don’t have much depth and the long season in the SEC may come back to get them.

Tennessee has had a revolving door of coaches since Rod Delmonico got fired back in 2007. This is their third coach in 11 years, with Tony Vitello as the current head man, replacing the fired Dave Serrano. The Vols have trouble hitting, with just a .257 team average, and the pitching has a 4.28 ERA. These are two rebuilding teams, but the edge goes to the one with more experience.