Three more games will be played before the day is complete. We take a look at the tournament rundown for day one.
Game 1, 9:30 A.M., Auburn vs. Alabama (Sportsouth)--Bitter rivals in every sport, the Tigers (39-17, 20-10) and Crimson Tide (34-21, 15-15) have already played four times this season with each team winning twice. Auburn outscored Alabama 25-23 in the regular season and will have to have its offense going once again to take the lead in the series this time around.
Players To Watch: For Auburn it's SEC Player of the Year Hunter Morris as well as All-SEC performers Brian Fletcher, Trent Mummey, Kevin Patterson, Ryan Jenkins and Grant Dayton. With all of the offensive support the most important player for Auburn may be starting pitcher Cory Luckie (6-3, 6.17 ERA). A quality pitching performance would go a long way towards a first round victory for the Tigers.
For Alabama the Crimson Tide goes as the top of the order goes. Speedy center fielder Taylor Dugas is the perfect leadoff man having reached base in 44 consecutive games and is hitting .404 for the season. Behind him is shortstop Josh Rutledge. Leading Alabama with 59 RBI, Rutledge hit safely in 29 of 30 SEC games this regular season with 21-straight to finish the year. If Auburn can control the dangerous duo then it would seriously hamper Alabama's offensive efforts.
Game 2, TBA, South Carolina vs. Ole Miss (Sportsouth)--South Carolina (43-13, 21-9) had an opportunity to win the overall league title before losing twice to Florida at home last weekend. Ole Miss (36-20, 16-14) had the opportunity to win the West but was swept at home by Auburn. Which team can overcome the disappointment of last weekend? My guess is Ole Miss with starter Drew Pomeranz on the mound.
Players To Watch: For Ole Miss it has to be Pomeranz. The SEC Pitcher of the Year, the junior left-hander is 7-2 with a 2.39 ERA this season and leads the league with 127 strikeouts. At the plate Matt Snyder has come on strong since his injury and could be a weapon for the struggling Ole Miss offense.
The Gamecocks are taking a chance by starting Nolan Belcher. Even though he's 3-0 with a miniscule 2.03 ERA, South Carolina features perhaps the top one-two combination on the mound of any team in the league with Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson in the rotation. At the plate Whit Merrifield and Jackie Bradley Jr. are both capable of carrying a team through a game with South Carolina's pitching staff.
Game 3, 4:30 P.M., Florida vs. LSU (CSS)--Florida has been dominant all season with a pitching staff and defense that is at the top of the charts in the league. Winning the overall SEC title with a 22-8 conference record and 40-13 overall, the Gators are fourth in team ERA at 4.05 and have committed just 46 errors this season. LSU slid into the SEC Tournament despite losing on Sunday to Mississippi State, the only Western Division win for the Bulldogs this season. Always dangerous, LSU is expected to run Anthony Ranaudo to the mound and while he has struggled this season with a 3-2 record and an 8.49 ERA, Ranaudo is capable of being a dominant hurler and could pose the Gators some problems.
Players To Watch: For Florida it's freshman pitcher Brian Johnson. At 5-2 on the season with a 3.62 ERA, he's also a threat at the plate with a .357 average, three home runs and 12 RBI in limited at-bats. The power comes from fellow freshman Austin Maddox. Hitting .346, Maddox has 17 homers and 64 RBI.
While Micah Gibbs .408 average and Matt Gaudet's 18 home runs lead the LSU team, the key for the Tigers is first baseman Blake Dean. One of the top performers in the country last season, Dean is hitting .332 but has just 12 home runs after hitting 17 last season on the way to a national championship.
Game 4, TBA, Arkansas vs. Vanderbilt, (CSS)--These two have become bitter rivals over the past few seasons with the Commodores (40-15, 16-12) getting the best of the Razorbacks for the most part until Arkansas won two of three in Nashville last weekend. Winning on Friday night, Vanderbilt extended its winning streak to seven in the series before the final two losses. That win did give the Commodores 40 wins for the third time in four seasons. Arkansas' big weekend gave the Razorbacks (40-16, 18-12) a second-place finish in the Western Division.
Players To Watch: Arkansas has stars in pitcher Drew Smyly, two-way standout Brett Eibner and third baseman Zack Cox. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks all three may be out for the SEC Tournament because of injuries. That will put a lot of pressure of pitchers D.J. Baxendale and Mike Bolsinger to come up big for coach Dave Van Horn.
On the flipside Vanderbilt will have ace Sonny Gray (8-4, 3.44 ERA) on the mound for the opener and he could make it tough for Arkansas to get anything going offensively if Cox and Eibner are unable to go. At the plate Vanderbilt is third in the SEC in hitting with a .316 average and is led by Jason Esposito. The third baseman is seventh in the SEC in hits, second in stolen bases, eighth in runs scored, and first in doubles.