Power conferences like the SEC are won by teams that have players who make special performances and plays. Saturday was filled with prime examples of what it takes to win in SEC baseball competition on a weekly basis. College Baseball Central Top 25 teams litter the landscape of the conference so every game matters.
Sometimes a player will make an amazing play out of nowhere, pulling a run from an out, or a win from a loss. Many performances can be the key to turning an entire season around while others may just be a single game spark that reveals the specialness of the player involved.
Missouri Evens Texas A&M: Tanner Houck Dazzles
An impromptu pitching battle went down at Blue Bell Park in College Station, Texas as the SEC’s divisional leaders continued their series Saturday as the Missouri Tigers (20-8, 6-2) evened the series with a 3-2 win over the No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies (26-2, 6-2). Stealing the show were a pair of hurlers who put together a set of gutsy, hard-nosed performances as both refused to concede defeat.
Missouri starter Tanner Houck dazzled fans with his solid performance on the mound. The talented freshman right-hander tallied only three strike outs but limited the conference’s top-scoring offense to the tune of only two runs over seven innings.
Houck was hit early, after cruising through the first, Aggies’ clean-up man Nick Banks hit a solo shot (2), to give Texas A&M a 1-0 lead in the second. Hunter Melton led off the next inning with a double, and after being sacrificed to third, scored on lead-off hitter Blake Allemand’s single to extend the Aggies lead to 2-0.
The six-foot-five-inch, 202-pound hurler would respond by shutting out the Aggies over the next four innings, getting the help of a couple double-play balls, as he scattered eight hits and two walks over his seven-inning outing. Houck would get the win and is 4-1 on the year with a 2.96 ERA and 40 strike outs.
Ryan Howard drove in the game-winning run with a double in the eighth. Dominant closer Breckin Williams tossed two scoreless frames to earn his seventh save.
“It’s just the way this Mizzou team wins games. Solid mound work. Clutch, hard-fought at bats. It wins in the regular season and the postseason.” – Realist Ray, College Baseball Postseason Analyst
Tennessee, Georgia Show Life In Wins
The No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores (21-6, 6-2) doused the Tennessee Volunteers’ (11-12, 2-6) hopes of resurrecting their season with a humiliating, 9-0 win in game one of the series on Friday night at Hawkins Field. However, the Volunteers responded with a pair of big inning on route to a 9-5 win on Saturday to bring the series even and set up a rubber match on Sunday.
Early on it appeared that Vandy would again impose its’ will on the Vols as Dores freshman Will Toffey fell behind 0-2 after failing on two sac bunt attempts only to drive a three-run homer over the wall in right to take a 3-0 lead. Toffey’s shot was his first career long ball and everything seemed to be following the script as Walker Buehler was throwing darts on the bump.
Then came a two-out, bases-empty error in the third as Zander Wiel’s fielding error extended the inning with a man on third. The Vols would erupt, keyed by Andrew Lee’s two-run triple, to grab five unearned runs and take a 5-3 lead.
With the game tied at 5-5, the Vols loaded the bases again in the eighth and plated four more runs to take a 9-5 lead that wouldn’t be relinquished. Lee, who had a three-hit day at the dish, dished from the bump to close the game for the Vols with a scoreless ninth.
After opening SEC play being swept at home and having lost top arms Robert Tyler and David Sosbee the outlook for the Georgia Bulldogs (18-10, 5-3) wasn’t very bullish. Yet, after the Bulldogs double-header sweep (actually, the first game was a continuation of Friday’s game that was halted before the ninth) of the No. 11 South Carolina Gamecocks (18-9, 4-4), Georgia has now won five straight road SEC games.
Georgia took the first game as Mike Bell slapped and RBI single back up the box. Then the Bulldogs built a 4-0 lead early and held off a late rally by the Gamecocks as Kyle Martin hit a two-run dinger, his fifth on the year, in the bottom of the ninth, to pull within 4-3.
Suddenly the Dawgs are right in the conference race at 5-3.
No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Florida Win
The No. 1 LSU Tigers (23-4, 5-3) evened their series with the Kentucky Wildcats (17-10, 3-5) with a 7-3 win on Saturday night at Alex Box/Bertman Field. The Tigers got the better end of an early pitching duel as Alex Lange struck out 13 (tied a career high) in seven innings as he allowed only an unearned run.
Yet, he and Wildcats starter Dustin Beggs would each have to settle for a no decision. Beggs allowed two runs, one earned over seven innings in a losing effort. LSU would win late at Chris Chinea raced to snag the Tigers second inside-the-park homer (1) of the series, driving in three runs to break a 2-2 tie.
Jared Foster followed up later in the inning with a two-run shot (6) that extended LSU’s lead to 7-2 and cap off a five-run rally.
Kyle Barrett and Marcus Carson each had three hits for the Tigers in the win.
Buddy Reed hit a one-out, bases-loaded single in the eighth that plated two runs as the No. 2 Florida Gators (23-6, 5-4) took the series win over the Alabama Crimson Tide (14-12, 4-5) with a 7-4 victory.
AJ Puk returned to form with 3.1 innings of scoreless ball that included five strike outs. Puk got the win after entering the game with two-outs in the sixth after the Tide has stormed back with three-runs that included Will Haynies’ second homer of the season.
Puk dropped his ERA almost a full run, from 5.06 to 4.20 in the outing.
Arkansas Wins With Bobby Wernes Heads Up Play
You will not find the play on the internet because the SEC Network cameras missed it in the Arkansas Razorbacks (14-13, 3-6) 5-2 win over the Ole Miss Rebels (14-14, 4-5) at Baum Field on Saturday. However, a very special play occurred that demonstrates to young player the importance of being awake every moment they are on the diamond.
Chad Spanberger (not to be confused with the Spamburger, popular among southern cuisine) dribbled a single off Colby Bortles’ glove at third that scored a run to pull Arkansas within 2-1. Bortles and Rebels’ reliever Jacob Waguespack were both disappointed with the play that could have been an out, instead the Hogs still had a bases loaded situation.
Let’s listen to Hogs hitter Bobby Wernes tell the story: “They threw it back to the pitcher and he kind of dropped his head and walked pretty far back past the mound. I saw the catcher’s head was down too, so I asked Coach Vitello if time had been called and he said no. I rolled the dice and went and luckily it paid off.”
Wernes stole home! He did so in such a manner that the SEC crew didn’t catch it because they assumed, as did the Rebels, that play was dead. Joe Serrano would single on the next pitch to give the Razorbacks the lead for good.
Wernes steal of home is symptomatic of what he brings to the table for the Hogs. He is spectacular in the field, making amazing plays that display his ranged and athleticism with a .984 fielding percentage. Yet, at the plate he is also a difference maker as the squad’s top hitter with a .362/.574/.459 slash line while leading the team with 23 runs scored.
Wernes added to that total when he decided to steal home, it wasn’t a called play, it was just a heads up play by player who makes a difference.
Keegan Thompson Brilliant In Auburn Win
Auburn Tigers (17-10, 3-5) hurler Keegan Thompson had a brilliant performance, tossing eight scoreless as the Tigers clinched the road series with the Mississippi State Bulldogs (18-11, 2-6) with a 4-0 win on Saturday.
Thompson struck out five and dropped his ERA a full run, from 5.21 to 4.10.
The Bulldogs are on the skids, having been shutout in three straight ballgames after losing back-to-back series to open SEC play. It’s amazing to consider since this was a Top 25 team just a few weeks ago.