Seeds on the line?
Three things to take from Day 3 of the SEC tournament
HOOVER, Ala. -- South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook was not shy about expressing his disappointment following the Gamecocks’ 7-2 loss to Florida on Thursday, which eliminated the country’s No. 9 team in the NCBWA poll from the SEC tournament.
“I felt like we had a lot to play for today,” Holbrook said, “and for some reason we didn’t handle adversity very well.”
The Gamecocks jumped out to an early lead on the No. 14 Gators, but stumbled by surrendering five runs between the third and fourth innings, and managed just two hits after that. That loss came the day after a 12-0 seven-inning loss to Mississippi State due to run rule in the tournament opener for the South Carolina.
The “a lot to play for” for South Carolina could very well have been a national seed, meaning a chance to host the regionals and the super regionals, should the team make it. After an 0-2 SEC tournament, its chances at that national top-eight seed seem a bit slimmer. The Gamecocks will head back home to await their fate, with the national seeds being announced on Sunday night and the rest of the bracket on Monday. Holbrook said that upon their return to Columbia, they will go out on the practice field “twice [Friday], twice Saturday and twice Sunday.”
“I’m going to make them so mad at me in the next couple days that hopefully they’ll take it out on somebody else in a week or so,” Holbrook said.
This is not a situation Holbrook and South Carolina are unfamiliar with, however. The Gamecocks went 0-2 in the SEC tournament in 2010 and entered the NCAA tournament without a national seed, but went on to beat UCLA to claim the national championship. While dismayed with the results of the week, Holbrook said missing out on a top-eight seed would not seal their fate and that with proper preparation, he is confident in his team’s ability to respond to adversity.
“We didn’t play well, but I believe in our team,” Holbrook said. “I believe in my guys, and we’ve got seven-eight days to get healthy. We’ve lost two games here and won a national championship. Our guys know that.”
South Carolina isn’t the only top-10 team heading home early. Tenth-ranked Vanderbilt fell to No. 16 Mississippi on Thursday after having been run-ruled 11-1 by No. 8 LSU on Wednesday.
“We didn’t get any timely hits,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “We weren’t able to put people in scoring position early.”
In the latest RPI released before the SEC tournament started, the Commodores were ranked sixth with the Gamecocks two spots behind them. The strength of schedule they played against in the SEC will help, but their performances this week in Hoover will not as the await the committee’s hosting decisions. If one of those teams were in position for a national seed and falls out, it could be the Mississippi squad (No. 13 in the RPI) that is ready to snatch it. The Rebels will play Arkansas at 4 p.m. ET on Friday for a shot at LSU on Saturday.
Gators after more than winning
After beating South Carolina 7-2, Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan spoke a lot about his goals for the SEC tournament, which went beyond winning games. For his young squad that is the top seed in the tournament, it’s adjusting to a new style of play that is necessary for tournaments and making sure pitchers feel well-rested, but prepared enough to enter the NCAA tournament. The Gators had lost their first game of the tournament 4-2 to Kentucky.
“You just want guys feeling good about themselves,” O’Sullivan said. “Today was a big game for us. We’re a young team, we’re very inexperienced in a lot of different ways. It’s one thing to play in the regular season, but this is a different environment for a lot of these young players.
“This is a good learning experience for our players. I do feel good about how we responded today.”
O’Sullivan was happy to get contibutions up and down the lineup on Thursday, with five different players recording an RBI and hits out of all but the No. 6 spot in the order. Leadoff hitter Casey Turgeon led the way, hitting 3-for-5 with two RBI and a run scored.
The Gators will play Mississippi State in the second game on Friday. The winner of that game will move on to play Kentucky in a single-elimination semifinal on Saturday, while the loser will be packing its bags.
LSU coming together at the right time
LSU’s seven-run output in its 7-2 win against Arkansas on Thursday was its actually lowest in nearly two weeks. In their past six games, all wins, the Tigers have totaled 74 runs. Combine that with the consistently strong pitching of junior Aaron Nola and freshman Jared Poshe’, you get a team that looks tough to beat at the moment.
They are an opportunistic bunch – When Jake Fraley popped one foul in the seventh inning and it was caught by Arkansas third baseman Bobby Wernes, Mark Laird, who was on third, saw that no one was covering home. LSU head coach Paul Mainieri called the paly “the shortest sac fly in the history of the game.”
Laird, the right fielder and leadoff hitter, is 5-for-8 in the tournament so far with four RBI. Two-hole hitter and shortstop Alex Bregman is 5-for-9, and catcher Tyler Moore went 3-for-4 on Thursday, including a monster home run that left the park altogether.
“I’m starting to get the feeling this team’s believing in themselves an awful lot.” Manieri said. “We’ve got two pretty established starting pitchers. … Some of the bullpen roles have been defined. … We’ve started swinging the bats better, I think we’ve always played good defense. Who knows, maybe we’ll get fortunate enough to host a regional and go from there.”
After starting the tournament 2-0, LSU now gets a day off on Friday and will play the winner of Mississippi and Arkansas on Saturday.