SEC Baseball Report: Vols await word on Ahuna

By: Matt Jones Matt Jones's Twitter account
Published: Thursday, February 23, 2023
Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello watches the action during an NCAA college baseball super regional game against Notre Dame Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Randy Sartin)
Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello watches the action during an NCAA college baseball super regional game against Notre Dame Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Randy Sartin)

Tennessee opened the season without its star transfer shortstop Maui Ahuna in the lineup.

Ahuna, who is a first-round prospect in this year’s MLB Draft, transferred to Tennessee from Kansas during the offseason and is awaiting clearance from the NCAA to play. 

It is unclear why Ahuna has not received clearance. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported the Vols self-reported a Level III violation — a minor offense — to the NCAA last year when Ahuna was approved a flight for a recruiting visit before Tennessee had received his transcript. 

"I know professionals from different entities are working on it, which makes me feel as good as I can and, hopefully, him as good as he can about it," Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said following the Vols’ 10-0 victory over Alabama A&M on Tuesday, according to the Knoxville News Sentintel. "People that are way more professional than me and a lot of people that are looking out for the kid’s sole interest. Hopefully, an update soon but I don’t have something specific now.”

Ahuna started 53 games at Kansas last season and batted .396 — the second-best average in the Big 12 — with 16 doubles, 4 triples, 8 home runs and 48 RBI. He also stole 13 bases. 

Multiple publications named Ahuna a preseason All-American this year. The Golden Spikes Award included him as one of the players on its watch list. 

Tennessee is 3-2 without Ahuna in the lineup. The second-ranked Vols lost 3-1 to Arizona and 4-3 to Grand Canyon, and defeated California-San Diego 7-0 while playing at different Phoenix-area ballparks on Opening Weekend. 

The Vols swept a two-game series against Alabama A&M by scores of 10-0 and 23-1. 

Pitcher injuries

Three SEC West programs have already lost projected starters to elbow injuries that required Tommy John surgery. 

Texas A&M left-hander Ryan Prager was injured during fall practice, and Arkansas right-hander Jaxon Wiggins and LSU right-hander Grant Taylor suffered injuries during the preseason. 

They are the latest high-profile SEC pitchers who must undergo the surgery. Arkansas’ Peyton Pallette, Mississippi State’s Landon Sims, Alabama’s Connor Prielipp and Florida’s Hunter Barco had their seasons impacted last year, and Ole Miss’ Gunnar Hoglund needed the surgery in 2021.

“I think it’s not happening any more than it ever has,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Maybe more of the high-profile guys have been injured, so it gets out there a lot more. There’s so much more media coverage now. I think it’s just part of the game.”

Ole Miss left-hander Hunter Elliott will not pitch during the Rebels’ series against Maryland this weekend due to what coach Mike Bianco described as forearm tightness. Bianco said Elliott is awaiting MRI results that will reveal the nature of his injury. 

Texas vs. SEC

The Texas Longhorns went 0-3 against their future conference mates during the College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas. 

Arkansas (3-2), Missouri (6-5) and Vanderbilt (12-2) won games over Texas. 

It was the second time in three seasons the Longhorns went winless against SEC teams in Arlington. When Texas was swept by Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss in 2021, its move to the SEC had to yet to be announced. 

The Longhorns were 6-4 against five SEC teams — Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M — last season. They will join the SEC for the 2025 baseball season along with Oklahoma. 

“That’s a really good, potent baseball program,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said following the Commodores’ victory over Texas. 

“Their program and Oklahoma — I mean, that list to the party is pretty upscale.” 

Natural cycle

LSU first baseman Tre’ Morgan hit for the cycle in order during the Tigers’ 18-4 victory over Southern on Tuesday. 

Morgan finished the game 4 for 5 with 3 runs and 8 RBI. He singled during the second inning; doubled to score two runs in the third inning; tripled to score three runs in the fifth inning; and homered to score three runs during the sixth inning. 

“A cycle and 8 RBI, that’s a pretty nice day,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said.

The Tigers run-ruled Southern and did not bat after the sixth inning. 

Morgan was the first LSU player to hit for the cycle since Mikie Mahtook against Alcorn State in 2010. 

Change of plans

Auburn players expected to travel to Southern California this weekend. 

Instead, Southern Cal will come to them. 

The Tigers’ series against USC was relocated to Plainsman Park in Auburn, Ala., due to a winter storm that is in the forecast for Los Angeles beginning Thursday. 

The storm also forced Alabama to cancel its trip to Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif. The Crimson Tide will now host High Point for three games beginning Friday. 

Mid-week madness

Three SEC teams were upset at home Tuesday. 

Fourth-ranked Texas A&M lost 7-4 to Lamar, 10th-ranked Vanderbilt lost 6-5 to Central Arkansas, and Mississippi State lost 11-5 to Louisiana-Monroe. 

On Wednesday, South Florida scored seven runs in the ninth inning to win 10-9 at No. 5 Florida. 

No. 6 Arkansas avoided an upset Tuesday when it rallied from a 7-2 deficit to defeat Grambling State 9-7 at home. 

Southern led LSU 4-0 in the second inning Tuesday, but the Tigers scored the final 18 runs and the game was called after the seventh inning. 

DT homers

Tywone Malone, a 6-4, 315-pound defensive tackle on the Ole Miss football team, homered during the Rebels’ 11-3 home victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday. 

The solo home run was measured 431 feet and was the third for Malone in two seasons. He also homered during games against Virginia Commonwealth and Southeast Missouri State last season. 

Malone played as the Rebels’ designated hitter against the Red Wolves. 

Biancos play catch

Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco caught the ceremonial first pitch from his father, Ron, prior to the Rebels’ 14-4 victory over Delaware last Sunday. 

Ron Bianco was a two-sport athlete at Delaware in the 1960s. He was a catcher for the Blue Hens during the 1963 and 1964 seasons, and he also played football for Delaware’s Division II national championship team in 1963. 

VMI rally

Mississippi State blew a 10-1 lead and lost 14-13 to Virginia Military Institute last Saturday at Dudy-Noble Field. 

What made the comeback more notable is that VMI had only seven hits. The Keydets walked 12 times and benefitted from three errors by the Bulldogs. VMI also scored on a wild pitch and a steal of home plate. 

The Bulldogs bounced back to win 9-3 on Sunday to take the series. 

This Week’s Series to Watch

• No. 15 UCLA at No. 10 Vanderbilt

• No. 14 Maryland at No. 7 Ole Miss

• No. 1 LSU vs. Kansas State, Iowa and Sam Houston State at the Round Rock Classic

• Arizona State at Mississippi State

Players of the Week

Hitter: Jared Wegner, Arkansas — Wegner went 6 for 11 with 2 home runs, 1 triple, 1 double and 8 RBI during the Razorbacks’ games against Texas, TCU and Oklahoma State at the College Baseball Showdown. Wegner had 5 RBI with two outs during Arkansas’ 18-1 victory over Oklahoma State. The Kearney, Neb., native was playing his first games with the Razorbacks after transferring from Creighton. 

Pitcher: Paul Skenes, LSU — In his first start for the Tigers, the former Air Force two-way star pitched six shutout innings. Skenes, a right-hander, allowed 3 hits and 1 walk, and struck out 12. His strikeout total was the most by an LSU pitcher since 2021. 

In Case You Missed It

• Mississippi State ambidextrous pitcher Jurrangelo Cijntje struck out 7 batters — 6 with his right hand and 1 with his left — during a 4-inning start Wednesday against Louisiana-Monroe. 

• Tennessee scored a program-record 15 runs during the fifth inning of a 23-1 victory over Alabama A&M on Wednesday. 

• Missouri catcher Dylan Leach received his 2022 College World Series ring from Arkansas coaches after he hit a game-winning single to beat Texas 6-5 at the College Baseball Showdown. 


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