SEC Baseball Report: Upsets keep 11 in contention for NCAAs, help Hogs to top

Arkansas coach (left) and Auburn coach Butch Thompson exchange lineup cards prior to a game Friday, March 17, 2023, in Fayetteville.

The SEC teams that might be on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament strengthened their arguments to make the postseason last week. 

Auburn, Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M all won two of three games over ranked teams at home. Auburn defeated LSU, Alabama defeated Vanderbilt, Georgia defeated Tennessee, and Texas A&M defeated Florida. 

All four teams are included in the projected field of 64 NCAA Tournament teams at Three of the teams are in the projected field at Baseball America, with Georgia the exception. The Bulldogs are listed as one the first four teams out by Baseball America. 

No team has boosted its resume more than Auburn (27-19-1, 11-13 SEC), which has series wins the past two weeks over teams that were ranked No. 1 (LSU) and No. 3 (South Carolina) at the time. Auburn handed LSU its first series loss of the season. 

“When you’re 5-10 the first half [of SEC play], you’ve got to draw a line and do something about it at some point,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said following a 12-2 victory over LSU in the series finale.

Alabama’s series victory over Vanderbilt was notable because of the abrupt firing of former Crimson Tide coach Brad Bohannon last week. With interim head coach Jason Jackson leading the way, Alabama (33-16, 11-13) won the opening game of the series 11-2 on the same day Bohannon was fired.

“I can’t say enough about our guys, just the overall effort,” Jackson said following a 2-1 victory over Vanderbilt last Saturday in the final game of the series. “I’m just so proud of them.”

Texas A&M (29-20, 11-13) snapped a five-game SEC losing streak when it defeated Florida 15-2 in the second game of their series. The Aggies won the finale 3-2 when Gators reliever Brandon Neely balked in the ninth inning with a runner at third base. 

“Given where we are in our season, any win is a huge win,” Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle said last Sunday. “This conference, I’ve only been in it a year and a half, but as soon as you think you have it figured out, good luck.” 

Georgia (28-21, 10-14) added another ranked team to its list of series wins and snapped Tennessee’s seven-game conference winning streak. The Bulldogs now have won series over Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee — all at home. 

“There are no moral victories in this league. You have got to win series,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said last Sunday. “We won the one against Kentucky and certainly we played good as we can play against Arkansas….To come back and win this one, that’s big. That’s a really good team; maybe the hottest team in the country right now.”  

If Auburn, Alabama, Texas A&M and Georgia make the postseason, the SEC would have 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament. That would break the record for most teams from one conference in the tournament, previously set twice by the SEC. 

Arkansas makes big move

No team was as thankful for the spike in upsets as Arkansas. 

The Razorbacks entered last weekend tied for fourth in the SEC, but left their three-game sweep of Mississippi State tied with Vanderbilt atop the league standings. 

Arkansas’ 17-7 SEC record is the same 24-game record as the 2021 Razorbacks when they won the conference championship. 

“The team is kind of unreal, to be honest with you,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said following an 11-6 victory last Sunday that finished the sweep. “They show up every day to play and they think they can win. They did it this weekend. Obviously, we’re all happy where we are.” 

Arkansas played the series without several injured players, including the players who primarily bat first, second and third in the lineup – Tavian Josenberger (hamstring), Peyton Stovall (shoulder) and Jared Wegner (thumb).

No problem. The Razorbacks scored 31 runs against the SEC’s worst pitching staff, including 14 during a 7-inning run rule in Game 2.

“We have a lot of talented kids on the team,” said Jace Bohrofen, who has slid from right field to center field in the absence of Josenberger, and homered twice at Mississippi State. “It’s not just us fighting injuries. I know some other teams are banged up. The guys who come off the bench, it’s what they do when you don’t have your starters out there, and I think we’ve done a good job of contributing, stacking quality at-bats and having quality outings on the staff.”

Arkansas has one of the SEC’s most difficult two-week schedules to close the season. The No. 3 Razorbacks are scheduled to host No. 7 South Carolina this weekend, then will play at No. 4 Vanderbilt in a series that might decide the league champion.

Hoover outlook

If the season ended today, the last two national champions would miss the SEC Tournament, which excludes the two teams with the worst conference records.

Mississippi State and Ole Miss both have 6-18 SEC records with six games remaining in the regular season. The Bulldogs are scheduled to finish with series at LSU and at home against Texas A&M, and the Rebels will host Auburn before closing the season at Alabama. 

Missouri is likely the only team that either of the Mississippi teams could pass in the SEC standings, though both teams could mathematically pass as many as six teams, including one another. Mizzou has a 7-17 conference record after winning a series over Ole Miss last week. 

Mississippi State is in danger of missing the conference tournament for the second consecutive season. Since winning the national championship in 2021, the Bulldogs have a conference record of 15-39, not counting neutral-site games against Ole Miss that do not count toward either team’s SEC records. 

“It’s been a tough year and a half, since about halfway through the year last year,” Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said last Sunday after the Bulldogs were swept by Arkansas at home. “We’ve got to get it back.” 

Barring a championship at the conference tournament they are in danger of missing, Ole Miss will join Mississippi State on an infamous list. 

Since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1999, reigning national champions that missed the postseason were Oregon State (2008), Arizona (2013), UCLA (2014), Costal Carolina (2017) and Mississippi State (2022).

Harris homers

Ole Miss catcher Calvin Harris became the third SEC player to hit four home runs in one game — and the first to do so in a conference game — when he accomplished the feat during the Rebels’ 20-14 victory in the finale at Missouri last Saturday. 

Harris homered in the third, fourth, sixth and ninth innings. He finished with 10 RBI, which tied a single-game record for Ole Miss that had stood for 76 years. 

The game included 12 home runs — six by each team. 

Harris was the first SEC player to homer four times since Florida’s JJ Schwarz against Stetson in 2015. Bill Sandry of Kentucky was the first SEC player to hit four home runs in a game, doing so against Eastern Kentucky in 1982.

Series of the Week: 4 Vanderbilt (35-13) at 5 Florida (37-12)

This series has major conference championship implications. Florida enters the weekend two games behind Vanderbilt and Arkansas, and 1 1/2 games behind LSU in the SEC standings. 

If the Gators lose the series, they will fall out of contention for a title.

Vanderbilt scratched Carter Holton from his scheduled Game 1 start. Right-hander Patrick Reilly will start in his place against Florida right-hander Brandon Sproat.

When healthy, the Commodores and the Gators have sported two of the best three-man rotations in the league this season in Holton, Hunter Owen and Devin Futrell of Vanderbilt, and Sproat, Hurston Waldrep and Jac Caglianone of Florida. 

The Gators have been hard to beat at home, where they have a 27-6 record. Florida ranks sixth nationally with 101 home runs, most of which have been hit at its hitter-friendly home park. 

Both teams are looking to bounce back from disappointing series a week ago, and both enter having lost two of their last three SEC series. 

Other weekend series

7 South Carolina (36-12) at 3 Arkansas (36-12)

16 Kentucky (34-13) at 20 Tennessee (33-16)

Mississippi State (24-23) at 2 LSU (38-10)

Georgia (28-21) at Missouri (27-20)

Alabama (33-16) at Texas A&M (29-20)

Auburn (27-19-1) at Ole Miss (25-23)

SEC West standings

Arkansas 17-7

LSU 16-7

Alabama 11-13

Texas A&M 11-13

Auburn 11-13

Mississippi State 6-18

Ole Miss 6-18

SEC East standings

Vanderbilt 17-7

Florida 15-9

South Carolina 14-9

Kentucky 14-10

Tennessee 12-12

Georgia 10-14

Missouri 7-17

Hitter of the Week: Luke Mann, Missouri

Mann homered in all four of the Tigers’ games last week against Kansas and Ole Miss, and finished with five home runs. 

He tied a career high with four hits the 9-7 victory over Kansas when he doubled three times and homered once. 

Mann homered twice as the Tigers rallied from a seven-run deficit to defeat Ole Miss 11-9 in the first game of the series. His second home run tied the game 9-9 in the seventh inning. 

Pitcher of the Week: Paul Skenes, LSU

Skenes allowed 6 hits, 1 walks and struck out a career-high 15 without allowing a run during his start against Auburn last Friday. 

Skenes’ 7 1/3 innings were a season high. He became the Tigers’ first pitcher to strike out 15 since Tyler Jones against New Orleans in 2011, and the first LSU pitcher with 15 strikeouts in an SEC game since Anthony Renaudo against Auburn in 2009.

Skenes improved to 9-1. He ranks first nationally with 139 strikeouts and leads the SEC in ERA (1.73), innings pitched (72 2/3) and lowest opponent batting average (.165).

Stat of the Week

The past two SEC champions, Arkansas in 2021 and Tennessee in 2022, were picked to finish third in their respective divisions those years. 

Arkansas and Vanderbilt were picked to finish third in the SEC West and SEC East, respectively, this year, and are tied for first place in the conference with two weeks remaining.