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: Alabama fires Bohannon, Mississippi State fires Foxhall
Alabama coach Brad Bohannon (right) argues with umpire Mark Winters after Bohannon was ejected from a game against Arkansas on Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Fayetteville.
Alabama fired baseball coach Brad Bohannon on Thursday.
A statement released by the university said athletics director Greg Byrne had initiated Bohannon's termination process "for, among other things, violating the standards, duties and responsibilities expected of University employees." No specific reason was given for Bohannon's dismissal.
The statement said assistant coach Jason Jackson will serve as interim head coach and that the university would have no further comment "pending an ongoing review."
Bohannon's firing came six days after ESPN reported Ohio's top gambling regulators said they detected suspicious betting activity at a Cincinnati sports book related to an Alabama-LSU baseball game.
According to the Associated Press, the Ohio regulator issued an emergency order Monday that prohibited sports books in the state from accepting bets on Alabama baseball games. Similar actions have followed in the states of New Jersey, Indiana and Pennsylvania, and by some betting websites.
The game in question was played last Friday when LSU defeated Alabama 8-6 in Baton Rouge.
In a statement included at D1Baseball.com, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said, in part, "The University of Alabama has taken swift action after information about baseball sports wagering activity was questioned by industry regulators. Ensuring the integrity of athletic competition is our highest priority, and for that purpose the SEC monitors gambling activity through its relationship with US Integrity and has done so since 2018."
ESPN reported Las Vegas-based U.S. Integrity warned sports books of "suspicious-wagering activity." According to AP, U.S. Integrity monitors "data to see if discrepancies coincide with notable player or coaching events, reveal officiating abnormalities or are indicative of the misuse of insider information," citing the company's website.
The Crimson Tide are 30-15 overall and 9-12 in SEC play, and in contention to play in the NCAA Tournament. Projections published this week by Baseball America and D1Baseball have Alabama as a No. 3 seed in a regional.
Alabama had won six of seven games before getting swept at top-ranked LSU last week. The news of Bohannon's firing came hours before the Crimson Tide were scheduled to host a series against No. 5 Vanderbilt.
Bohannon was hired as Alabama's coach before the 2018 season and had a record of 166-124. At the time he was hired he was the third coach in three seasons for the Crimson Tide, and in 2021 he led the program to its first appearance in the NCAA postseason in seven years.
Before going to Alabama, Bohannon made a name for himself as an assistant coach at Kentucky for 12 seasons and Auburn for two seasons. He was named the national assistant coach of the year by Baseball America and the American Baseball Coaches Association in 2015 in his final year at Kentucky.
Lemonis fires pitching coach
Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis fired pitching coach Scott Foxhall on Monday, less than two years after Foxhall was named ABCA national assistant coach of the year for helping lead the Bulldogs to their first College World Series championship.
“[We had] a couple of great years pitching, won a national championship with a great pitching staff, but the last two years have been tough,” Lemonis said Monday on his weekly “Dawg Talk” radio show, according to the Columbus (Miss.) Dispatch. “Just after the weekend, the way we were moving, just felt like it was the time and place.”
Mississippi State has the SEC’s worst earned run average of 6.62, leads the SEC with 255 walks allowed, is second with 52 hit batters and fourth with 43 wild pitches.
In conference-only games, Mississippi State’s ERA is 9.82. The next-worst ERA in SEC play belongs to Texas A&M at 7.51.
At Tennessee last week, Mississippi State allowed 33 runs in three games.
The Bulldogs also struggled on the mound last season when they had the SEC’s worst ERA of 6.07.
Mississippi State will potentially miss the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season after winning the 2021 College World Series. Foxhall’s staff set an NCAA single-season record that year with 817 strikeouts.
More arm issues
Three more of the SEC West’s top pitchers have been lost to Tommy John surgery, it was announced this week.
Ole Miss left-hander Hunter Elliott underwent the surgery Wednesday, according to RebelGrove.com. Elliott, who starred as a freshman on last year’s national championship team and was the team’s projected No. 1 starter this year, returned from an ulnar collateral ligament sprain April 22 when he allowed 5 runs and threw 49 pitches in 1 inning.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said the following week that Elliott would revisit doctors after developing soreness.
“After further examination, it was decided that Hunter would need Tommy John surgery,” Ole Miss said in a statement Thursday, according to Rebel Grove.
LSU right-hander Garrett Edwards also underwent the surgery, The Advocate reported Thursday, citing a source. Edwards has not pitched since April 7 at South Carolina, and the Advocate reported he was seen with a brace on his arm during last week’s series against Alabama.
Edwards was one of LSU’s best relievers. He had a 1.93 ERA in 23 1/3 innings.
Arkansas also lost one of its best relievers this week when right-hander Dylan Carter announced he tore his UCL. Carter was the Razorbacks’ most-used reliever and had a 3.65 ERA in 37 innings.
“You don’t replace him, really,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Thursday. “When he was rolling along there, he was pitching 90-93 [mph] and throwing his slider for a strike, and pitching in some real tough, leverage situations.”
LSU and Arkansas, which are separated by 1 1/2 games atop the SEC West, have had multiple season-ending injuries to star pitchers since the start of the year.
Edwards is at least the third LSU pitcher to undergo Tommy John surgery, along with right-handers Grant Taylor in the preseason and Chase Shores. Taylor would have been a starter or a top reliever, and Shores had a 1.96 ERA at the time of his injury in early April.
Carter is the second Arkansas pitcher to require Tommy John surgery, joining right-hander Jaxon Wiggins, a projected starter before the season. Right-handed reliever Koty Frank also required season-ending surgery after he suffered a torn lat muscle March 5. He had thrown more than any of the Razorbacks’ relievers at that time.
Highway to Hoover
Ole Miss and Missouri will play this week in a matchup of teams fighting to stay alive for the SEC Tournament that begins with four single-elimination games May 23 in Hoover, Ala.
Both teams have 5-16 records and would be left out of the tournament field if it began today. The 12 teams with the best SEC records are invited to Hoover.
At 6-15, Mississippi State is in danger of missing the tournament for the second consecutive season. Georgia has the league’s next-worst record at 8-13, just behind a three-way tie between Auburn, Alabama and Texas A&M at 9-12.
Every other SEC team has a winning record.
The SEC’s two division champions and the teams with the two next-best records will not have to play in the opening, single-elimination round. If the season ended today the Nos. 1-4 seeds, in order, would be Vanderbilt, LSU, South Carolina and Arkansas.
At 14-7, the Razorbacks are tied with Florida for the league’s fourth-best record. Today’s tiebreaker scenario would not necessarily work because both teams have yet to play Vanderbilt.
Griffin Merritt hit two game-winning home runs for Tennessee in less than a week.
Six days after he hit a solo home run in the 12th inning to beat Vanderbilt 4-3 on his home field, Merritt homered against in the ninth inning last Thursday to give the Volunteers an 8-7 victory over Mississippi State.
“I don’t want things to be tight in the ninth, but if they are, I’m going to try and get these numbers,” Merritt said after the game, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Tennessee has won seven consecutive games since a four-game losing streak that included a weekend sweep in Arkansas. The Vols swept Vanderbilt by a combined score of 31-9 and Mississippi State by a combined 33-17.
The hot streak coincides with the decision to move former starter Chase Burns, a right-hander, to the bullpen. Over 4 relief appearances against Arkansas, Vanderbilt (twice) and Mississippi State, Burns has allowed 2 earned runs on 5 hits and 2 walks, and struck out 17 in 11 2/3 innings.
Florida’s Jac Caglianone homered during a 7-5 victory over Florida State on Tuesday to tie the Gators’ single-season record home runs.
Caglianone has 26 home runs, which is the same number hit last year by Wyatt Langford. Caglianone’s home run total is tops nationally. Troy’s Shane Lewis is second with 23 homers.
With several games remaining, Caglianone stands a good chance to become the third SEC player with 30 or more home runs in one season. LSU’s Brandon Larson homered 40 times in 69 games in 1997, and LSU’s Brad Cresse homered 30 times in 69 games in 2000.
SEC West standings
Texas A&M 9-12
Mississippi State 6-15
Ole Miss 5-16
SEC East standings
South Carolina 14-6
Series of the Week — 1 LSU (36-8) at Auburn (25-18-1)
LSU is on upset alert this week as it travels to play an Auburn team that won a series at then-No. 3 South Carolina last week, and came close to sweeping the Gamecocks on their home field.
Auburn won the first two games of the series by scores of 8-3 and 9-5. South Carolina trailed 4-0 in the finale, but rallied in the seventh inning and won 8-7.
Auburn had double-digit hit totals in each game of the series — 33 hits overall — and homered 10 times. South Carolina had a 24-1 home record prior to losing twice to Auburn, and had swept No. 3 Florida on the same field the week before.
LSU has mostly out-slugged its way to seven consecutive SEC wins, including sweeps of Ole Miss and Alabama. The team has allowed 6.3 runs per game during that time.
Opposing teams have scored at least 20 runs in 4 of 5 SEC weekends against LSU, including South Carolina which scored 20 runs before the third game of the series was rained out.
Pitching to a hot Auburn lineup might be a challenge for LSU’s beat-up bullpen.
Other weekend series
4 South Carolina (36-8) at 21 Kentucky (30-13)
3 Florida (36-10) at Texas A&M (26-19)
5 Vanderbilt (33-11) at Alabama (30-15)*
6 Arkansas (33-12) at Mississippi State (24-20)
16 Tennessee (31-14) at Georgia (25-20)
Ole Miss (24-21) at Missouri (25-19)*
*Series begins Thursday
Hitter of the Week — Dylan Crews, LSU
Crews was 6 for 11 with 2 home runs, 8 RBI and 5 runs scored during the Tigers’ sweep of Alabama.
He hit a three-run home run during the series opener when LSU won 8-6. He also hit a solo home run and had 3 RBI when the Tigers won 13-11 in the series finale.
Crews has reached base in 47 consecutive games.
Pitcher of the Week — Drew Beam, Tennessee
Beam threw the second complete game of his career as the Volunteers defeated Mississippi State 13-2 in seven innings last Saturday.
The right-hander allowed 2 runs on 3 hits and 1 walk, and struck out 7. Mississippi State’s lineup scored 15 runs over the first two games of the series.
Beam recorded his team-best sixth victory.
Stat of the Week
LSU scored 430 runs through its first 43 games — a run total higher than any 43-game start during the “Gorilla Ball” era from 1996-2000.
The Tigers’ per-game average of 10 runs is second nationally to Florida Gulf Coast (10.2). The SEC record for runs per game is 10.6 set by South Carolina in 1997.
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