On Friday night, to celebrate SEC baseball’s opening weekend, the SEC Network featured wall-to-wall coverage of every game going on in the league with their Bases Loaded programming, which you may remember from ESPN’s late-season SEC coverage in 2015 and their coverage of regionals over the last couple of years.
I’m probably going to come across like a broken record by the time the end of the season rolls around, because I’ve brought up a similar point already a couple of times this season, but it bears repeating again and again. This type of coverage for college baseball seemed unfathomable as recently as five or six years ago.
And as great as the coverage was, the baseball played across the league was just as good. The rainouts for Texas A&M/Auburn and Alabama/LSU were bummers, to be sure, but among the games that actually got played, the quality was very high.
Let’s take a spin around the league and review opening night for SEC baseball.
- Florida, the top team in the nation, snuck past Missouri 4-3 in ten innings. The Gators jumped out to a 3-0 lead after one inning of play and it appeared that the rout might be on, but Missouri continued to fight. Tigers starter Reggie McClain shut down Florida after that opening frame, eventually throwing nine innings, giving up nine hits and three runs with no walks and eight strikeouts. When you consider that all three of those runs and four of those hits came in that first inning, his line looks even more impressive. The Tigers scored single runs in the fourth, sixth, and ninth to tie the game, but with the bases loaded in the tenth inning, Peter Alonso singled to bring home the winning run. There’s no way around the fact that this loss hurts for Missouri after battling back to tie. Stealing this win with Tanner Houck on the mound tomorrow would have been a coup for the Tigers.
- Tennessee gave the SEC another walk-off winner in their 3-2 victory over Mississippi. Both teams got quality starting pitching in this one as the Rebels’ Brady Bramlett (5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K) went toe-to-toe with Volunteers’ Zach Warren (6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 8 K). With the Volunteers leading 2-1 in the top of the eighth inning, Mississippi’s J.B. Woodman hit a towering homer to right field off of Jon Lipinski, who had been basically untouchable to that point in relief. Not to be outdone, though, with a man on second and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Tennessee’s Derek Lance, a hometown kid from Knoxville, no less, singled to center, scoring the winning run.
- Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good and on Friday night, Mississippi State was a bit of both. On the mound, they were really good, getting a great outing from Dakota Hudson (9 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K) and quality relief work from Blake Smith, Kale Breaux, and Ryan Rigby. They did, however, get a little bit lucky on offense. In the top of the 13th, Luke Alexander doubled on a ball that otherwise likely would have been a single had it not ricocheted off of the umpire standing in center field and took a funky bounce away from the Vanderbilt outfielders. Two batters later, with two outs in the inning, Cole Gordon dumped a single into left field, bringing home the deciding run in the person of Alexander. The Commodores’ loss wasted the solid outing of starting pitcher Jordan Sheffield (6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 9 K) and sparkling relief work from Matt Ruppenthal (7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K). This type of opener sets the stage for a great finish to this series over the next two days.
- The Georgia Bulldogs came away with a 5-2 win over the Kentucky Wildcats thanks in large part to staff ace Robert Tyler’s ability to work around the seven walks he issued in five innings of work and masterful relief performances from Drew Moody (3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K) and Bo Tucker (1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K). Daniel Nichols led the way offensively for the Dogs and filled up the box score, going 3-for-4 with a double, a run scored, an RBI, and a stolen base.
- South Carolina and Arkansas apparently didn’t get the memo that Friday night in the SEC means great pitching from start to finish, as the Gamecocks came away with a 10-6 win over the Razorbacks. After building up an 8-0 lead after two innings against Arkansas starter Dominic Taccolini, South Carolina let their opponent back into the game late, with the Razorbacks eventually getting within three runs at 9-6 after a four-run eighth inning that included a Luke Bonfield two-run home run. That was as close as it would get, though, as the Gamecocks’ relief duo of Reed Scott and Josh Reagan combined to throw a near-perfect final 1.2 innings.