Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
SEC Baseball Report: Schedule changes, Gators' 2-way star, stat leaders
Arkansas first baseman Brady Slavens waits on a throw while Texas infielder Mitchell Daly (19) runs toward the bag during a game Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. The Longhorns will have a long history against multiple teams, like the Razorbacks, in the new-look SEC, but won't be able to play them all on an annual basis.
SEC baseball schedules will be getting a makeover in 2025 when the conference adds Texas and Oklahoma.
The league office announced this week that each SEC team will have two permanent opponents on its schedule beginning in 2025. The other eight series that make up the 30-game conference season will be determined on a rotating basis.
The SEC will eliminate baseball divisions after it becomes a 16-team conference. No format has been chosen for the SEC Baseball Tournament after expansion.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said at the College Baseball Showdown last month he was not in favor of the division-less concept.
“I just don’t think it’s baseball,” Van Horn said. “I just think baseball is about divisions, from the big leagues on down.”
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said it will be important for the conference to create a schedule “that allows us some flexibility” to maximize the SEC’s number of teams that play in NCAA regionals.
“When you’ve got a conference that even, the win and loss records are not going to look like everywhere else,” Corbin said while at the College Baseball Showdown. “I just think we’ve got to do a good job of protecting ourselves.”
Texas and Oklahoma have great baseball histories. The Longhorns have won six national championships — most recently in 2005 — and have played in a record 38 College World Series. The Sooners have won the national championship twice— most recently in 1994 — and played in the College World Series 11 times.
Both teams played at the College World Series last season. Oklahoma was national runner-up to Ole Miss.
Changes to the schedule will end on an annual basis rivalries that had been established through divisional play. Arkansas, for instance, has formed healthy baseball rivalries with LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M from the SEC West. Some, if not all, of those series will be played on an irregular basis moving forward.
The league must also make tough decisions about which series are most worthy of being played every year. Texas has a long baseball history against Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Arkansas in other conferences, but at least one of those series will not be played annually.
The SEC did away with basketball divisions when Texas A&M and Missouri joined the league in 2012, and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has given strong indications that the league will eliminate divisions in football, too.
Two ideas — the so-called 3-6-6 and 1-7-7 models — have been floated for football. Those would allow teams to keep 3 permanent opponents and rotate the other 12 from the conference every other year in the event a 9-game SEC football schedule is approved, or keep 1 permanent opponent and rotate the other 14 if the league schedule remains at 8 games.
One of the draws to the 3-6-6 and 1-7-7 models, Sankey has said, is every SEC football team will play all other teams in the conference within a two-year window. That is also a possibility under the new SEC baseball format, though it is unclear whether it will happen because the league office has not announced how the non-permanent opponents will rotate.
The John Olerud Award recognizes the best two-way player in college baseball.
If the 2023 season ended now, Florida’s Jac Caglianone would likely win the award in a landslide.
Caglianone, a sophomore first baseman who bats and throws left-handed, leads the NCAA with 13 home runs to go along with a .408 batting average, 6 doubles, 1 triple and 30 RBI. He has been walked five times, including twice intentionally.
Caglianone is also the Gators’ No. 3 weekend starter and has a 3-0 record and 1.77 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and .130 batting average against through 4 starts and 20 1/3 innings on the mound.
The Sundays when Caglianone pitches and starts as the designated hitter have been among his best games.
He is 6 for 12 with 5 home runs and 9 RBI during games when he is also the starting pitcher. He homered three times during a start against Cincinnati, and homered twice last Sunday against Siena.
“You don't have many players that can hit a baseball over 100 mph and throw close to 100 on the mound,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said last month in a story posted to the team’s website.
"They just don't come around very often. He's a special talent."
SEC teams continued to homer at a high rate last week with the 14 teams combining to hit 101 home runs during games played Friday through Wednesday.
Among the highlights of the week:
• Missouri’s Hank Zeisler (vs. Lamar) and Georgia’s Connor Tate (Charleston Southern) homered three times in the same game.
• LSU’s Jared Jones hit home runs in four consecutive plate appearances that accounted for 10 RBI during a series against Samford.
• Tennessee tied a program record with seven home runs hit during a 23-4 victory over Morehead State last Friday.
• South Carolina hit three grand slams during the first two games of its series against Bethune Cookman.
• Ole Miss’ Kemp Alderman hit three home runs during the first two games of the Purdue series, including a game-winning homer in the 10th inning of the Rebels’ 7-6 victory last Saturday.
• Arkansas’ Jace Bohrofen homered in each game of the Louisiana Tech series to extend his streak to four consecutive games with a home run.
Here is a sampling of SEC stat leaders entering SEC play:
Batting Avg.: Charlie Condon, Georgia, .531
On-Base Pct.: Dylan Crews, LSU, .653
RBI: Charlie Condon, Georgia, 34
Home Runs: Jac Caglianone, Florida, 13
Triples: Zane Denton, Tennessee, 3
Doubles: Ike Irish, Auburn, 12
ERA: Liam Sullivan, Georgia, 0.44
Opp. Batting Avg.: Liam Sullivan, Georgia, .091
Strikeouts: Paul Skenes, LSU, 48
Alabama and Auburn were upset in weekend series on their home fields last weekend.
The Crimson Tide lost two of three games to Columbia, including 15-3 in the series finale. After winning the series opener, Auburn was swept by Southeastern Louisiana during a Saturday doubleheader by scores of 8-3 and 8-7.
Alabama had not lost a game prior to its 10-7 loss to Columbia last Friday. The Crimson Tide won their first 14 games.
In the polls
There are nine SEC teams ranked in the latest USA Today Baseball Coaches Poll:
3. Ole Miss
14. South Carolina
15. Texas A&M
Auburn, which was ranked 25th last week, fell out of the poll following its series loss to Southeastern Louisiana.
Series of the Week — Ole Miss (14-3) at Vanderbilt (13-5)
Few SEC teams challenged themselves in non-conference play like Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
According to WarrenNolan.com, Vanderbilt has played the SEC’s toughest schedule, followed in order by Kentucky, Arkansas and Ole Miss.
The Commodores played TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas at the College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas; hosted a three-game series against UCLA; and played Maryland, Nebraska and Minnesota at the Cambria College Classic in Minneapolis.
Ole Miss also played at the Cambria College Classic, and the Rebels hosted a three-game series against Maryland and Purdue. Ole Miss also played mid-week games against Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss.
Neither team had a losing weekend record.
The Vanderbilt-Ole Miss series is one of two in the conference that will begin on Thursday to accommodate TV broadcasts. Thursday’s game will be televised by ESPNU while SEC Network shows the series opener between Florida and Alabama.
Other weekend series
LSU (16-1) at Texas A&M (13-4)
Alabama (16-2) at Florida (16-3)
Tennessee (15-3) at Missouri (13-3)
Auburn (13-3) at Arkansas (15-2)
South Carolina (17-1) at Georgia (13-4)
Mississippi State (13-5) at Kentucky (15-2)
Hitter of the Week — Hunter Gilliam, Kentucky
Gilliam has multiple hits in the Wildcats’ past six games, including 4 three-hit games. He is batting .640 with 6 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run and 16 RBI during that time.
The Kentucky first baseman enters SEC play on the heels of consecutive 3-hit, 5-RBI performances against Southern Illinois and Indiana. He has 27 total bases during the past six games.
Pitcher of the Week — Will McEntire, Arkansas
The right-handed McEntire threw a 97-pitch complete game during the Razorbacks’ 6-1 victory over Louisiana Tech last Saturday.
McEntire allowed 3 hits, walked 1 batter and struck out 6. The only run against him was unearned.
It was Arkansas’ first full complete game since Dominic Taccolini threw a 10-inning complete game at Kentucky in 2016. The Razorbacks had 3 seven-inning complete games between the ones thrown by Taccolini and McEntire.
Stat of the Week
Auburn has come from behind to win seven games.
The Tigers rallied from a 7-run deficit in the fifth inning to defeat Georgia Tech 12-11 in 12 innings on Tuesday at Plainsman Park. It was Auburn’s largest comeback since 2017.
• Florida star outfielder Wyatt Langford is expected to miss several weeks with a ruptured testicle, according to D1Baseball. Langford was hit by a pitch in the groin during last Friday’s game against Siena. Langford is generally considered one of the two top college position players eligible for this year’s MLB Draft, along with LSU outfielder Dylan Crews. He leads the Gators with a .431 batting average and also has 15 extra-base hits (7 doubles, 2 triples, 6 home runs) and 18 RBI.
• Tennessee third baseman Zane Denton, a transfer from Alabama, hit for the cycle during the first game of the Morehead State series. It was the fifth cycle in the Volunteers’ history.
• Seven SEC teams enter conference play on win streaks of at least seven games: LSU (11), Kentucky (11), Arkansas (10), Texas A&M (8), South Carolina (8), Florida (7) and Mississippi State (7).
• Tennessee’s pitching staff has recorded five shutouts, including two in the past three games against Morehead State and Lipscomb.
• All Vanderbilt players wore No. 4 jerseys during their 15-6 victory over Belmont on Tuesday in honor of Lou Gehrig. The Commodores will do the same for their game against Lipscomb next week. Both games were scheduled to be played at First Horizon Park, a Class AAA ballpark in Nashville, Tenn., and 40% of ticket proceeds will be donated to the Live Like Lou Fund at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The fund supports research for ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
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