SEC Tournament report:

Hogs had toughest road slate

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, May 24, 2018
Arkansas' Jax Biggers (9) tags out Mississippi's Thomas Dillard (6) on a steal attempt during an NCAA college baseball game in Oxford, Miss. on Friday, March 30, 2018. (Bruce Newman/Oxford Eagle via AP)
Arkansas' Jax Biggers (9) tags out Mississippi's Thomas Dillard (6) on a steal attempt during an NCAA college baseball game in Oxford, Miss. on Friday, March 30, 2018. (Bruce Newman/Oxford Eagle via AP)

HOOVER, Ala. -- The Arkansas Razorbacks, who were scheduled to open play late Wednesday in the SEC Tournament against No. 5 seed South Carolina, had the toughest conference road schedule in the SEC by a wide margin after facing No. 1 Florida, No. 4 Ole Miss, Mississippi State, LSU and No. 13 Georgia on the road.

The Razorbacks went 4-11 in conference road games against teams who combined for an 86-64 (.573) record in SEC play this season.

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Missouri and Tennessee both faced SEC teams on the road who had a combined 80-70 record to tie for the second most-difficult road schedule, followed by LSU (79-71), South Carolina (78-72), Texas A&M (78-72) and Auburn (77-73).

All the other SEC teams faced opponents on the road who combined for losing records, with Mississippi State (63-87) having the easiest schedule, followed by Alabama (68-82), Ole Miss (69-81) and Florida (70-80).

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, was the only team among the top four seeds at the SEC Tournament to play each of the other three top seeds, and the Razorbacks faced all of them -- Florida, Ole Miss, Georgia -- on the road.

The Razorbacks are a program-record 29-3 (.906) at Baum Stadium and they're 30-3 in home games with a 7-6 victory over Grambling State in North Little Rock added. In those games, the Razorbacks are scoring 8.4 runs per game and holding opponents to 3.4 runs per game.

In road games and neutral site games, Arkansas entered Wednesday's game at 7-14 and was scoring 4.9 runs per game and allowing 5.9 runs per game.

Rutledge gone

Arkansas freshman pitcher Jackson Rutledge announced his plans to transfer to San Jacinto Junior College in Pasadena, Texas, he posted on his Twitter account Wednesday night.

The 6-8 right-hander, who had a fastball that reached the high 90s, has not pitched since he walked two batters and threw three wild pitches without getting an out during a 9-7 victory over Alabama on April 29. Rutledge did not make the travel squad in series at LSU, Georgia or the SEC Tournament.

"I haven't seen him pitch good, so I can't throw him out there," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said May 7 at a Swatters Club meeting.

Rutledge played a key role as a reliever early in the season but struggled against SEC hitting. His ERA in conference play was 27.00. For the season, Rutledge was 3-0 with a 3.45 in 12 appearances, including 2 starts.

No hate for Nate

SEC Freshman of the Year Heston Kjerstad said he was fully on board with tagging up on Dominic Fletcher's pop up into short left field with one out in the ninth inning Saturday as advised by third base coach Nate Thompson. Georgia left fielder Keegan McGovern caught the fly ball and made a strong throw to the plate to nail Kjerstad to end the 3-2 victory for the Bulldogs with a double play.

"That's the way we've always played baseball," Kjerstad said. "You know it may have been a shallow fly ball, but that left fielder has to come up and make a perfect throw. He happened to come up and make that perfect throw and it ended the game.

"If we had to do it over again, I would tag again. That's just the way baseball works sometimes. If that throw would have been a little high or bounced or would have been left or right I would have been there. But he put it right on the plate and I was out."

Coach Dave Van Horn said he was OK with the decision as well.

"I coached third base for 20 years," Van Horn said. "It's really a tough call. I have no problem with him sending him there. There's one out. If we have a short fly ball, who's on deck?

"If it's your best hitter, [Carson] Shaddy or somebody who's hot, yeah, you're probably going to keep him there. But in this situation, we would have been in the eight hole in the lineup. ... Basically tried to make them make a play.

"I think Nate was upset with himself. I told him, 'Hey, I probably would have sent him anyway.' The kid made a perfect throw. ... The frustration was that Fletcher had a pretty good pitch to hit and he popped up. He should have driven it out there a little farther. And he was really upset too."

Gator aid

The No. 3 Florida Gators are dealing with late-season adversity from an injury standpoint while trying to defend their College World Series title.

SEC Pitcher of the Year Brady Singer was scratched from his scheduled start at Mississippi State last Thursday to deal with a hamstring issue and was replaced by Tommy Mace again for Wednesday's SEC Tournament opener against LSU.

Catcher JJ Schwarz will be out for at least a couple of weeks after reportedly suffering a broken bone in his hand while taking a foul tip off the exposed hand during the Gators' three-game sweep in Starkville, Miss., last weekend. A first-team All-SEC selection, Schwarz is hitting .325 with 12 home runs and 46 RBI.

Talking stats

Arkansas, with a .302 batting average in league games, was the only team to hit .300 or better in conference, with Ole Miss (.296) second and Missouri (.224) last.

Missouri had the best conference ERA, however, at 3.99, followed by Florida (4.17) and Arkansas (4.21), with Kentucky (6.62) bringing up the rear.

Florida's Brady Singer was the SEC ERA champion at 2.25, followed by Tennessee's Sean Hurley (2.64), Missouri's Tyler LaPlante (2.75), and the Arkansas duo of Kacey Murphy (2.78) and Blaine Knight (2.88).

Ole Miss' Ryan Olenek won the SEC batting crown with a .373 average, followed by Texas A&M's Michael Helman (.368), Florida's Jonathan India (.365), Arkansas' Carson Shaddy (.354) and Mississippi State's Jake Mangum (.353).

Kentucky's Kole Cottam led the league in home runs (19) and Auburn's Eduardo Julien had 58 RBI to lead the league.

Triple double

South Carolina's 4-2 victory over Missouri in Tuesday's late game, which ended after 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday, was aided in large part by its defense.

The Gamecocks turned three double plays in the game, in the fourth (with a runner at third), sixth, and ninth innings.

The game between the SEC East rivals started at 10:31 p.m. Central after a rain delay earlier in the day and the lengthy 11-inning game in which Auburn downed Kentucky.

Left out

Alabama and Tennessee failed to qualify for the SEC Tournament for the second consecutive year.

In the six years since the conference expanded and changed its tournament format, Tennessee has missed three SEC tourneys, more than any other team.

Under the current format, 12 teams qualify for the SEC Tournament and the bottom two teams are left out.

Alabama, Auburn and Georgia have missed two tournaments, while Arkansas (2016), Mississippi State (2015) and Missouri (2014) have missed one each.

Florida, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt have qualified for the tournament every season since the new format was adopted for 2013.

Hot 'Dogs

Mississippi State was eliminated from the SEC Tournament late Tuesday in an 8-6 loss to LSU, but the Bulldogs shouldn't have to worry about making the NCAA Tournament. Interim coach Gary Henderson's club rebounded from a rocky start following the resignation of Andy Cannizzaro after the opening weekend of the season. The Bulldogs' record includes a 9-1 mark against top five teams.

Mississippi State swept three games from both No. 1 Florida and No. 4 Arkansas and won two of three games against No. 3 Ole Miss, all in Starkville, Miss. The Bulldogs also won against the Rebels, 7-6 in Pearl, Miss., on April 24.

Sports on 05/24/2018

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