SEC Tournament Notebook - Day 1

HOOVER, Ala.- The three teams at the top of the final conference standings didn't experience a letdown during the first day of the SEC Tournament. Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt were all able to get through the first round without allowing an upset, setting up a showdown between the Commodores and Gamecocks on Thursday night.

South Carolina's win was the most unlikely based on the tournament's recent history. The Gamecocks became the first No. 1 overall seed to win their first game of the tournament in five years as they were able to secure a 7-3 win over Auburn.

Gamecocks starter Michael Roth allowed three unearned runs in the first inning before settling in and throwing eight shutout innings for a complete game.

"I knew Michael would stay in there and battle for us," South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. "I didn't think he'd shut it out for us the rest of the way, but I'm proud of all these guys hanging in there and really coming away with a good victory today. Michael just pitched extremely well for the final eight innings."

The No. 3 seed Gators secured a 7-5 win by throwing five relievers. Steven Rodriguez and Austin Maddox combined to throw the final 2.2 scoreless innings to pick up the win and save, respectively.

No. 4 seed Vanderbilt won the nightcap 10-0 over Georgia. Commodores' leadoff hitter Tony Kemp drove in three runs while third baseman Jason Esposito hit a home run and drove in two.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: The two teams with the most to play for at the tournament were Georgia and Auburn, both still unsure if they will make the NCAA Tournament. There is an NCAA rule that teams must be over .500 to make the tournament, and losses by each team Wednesday dropped Auburn to 29-28 and Georgia to 28-29.

The losses on Wednesday set the teams up against each other in the loser's bracket on Thursday.

Georgia's ten-run loss to Vanderbilt hurt head coach Dave Perno because of the team's at-bats. The Bulldogs' offense was improving in recent weeks, but it didn't look like it on Wednesday.

"I'm real disappointed in our lineup," Perno said. "No one had good at-bats. It was extremely disappointing."

Auburn jumped ahead to a three-run lead in the first inning, but starting pitcher Jon Luke Jacobs struggled, allowing four runs in three innings before being pulled.

With each team losing, Georgia must now win three straight games to make the NCAA Tournament while Auburn needs to win just one.

"These guys understand the magnitude of it," Auburn head coach John Pawlowski said. "They know that we have to go out and play hard if we want to stick around for another day."

Georgia will send left-hander Alex Wood to the mound against Auburn right-hander Derek Varnadore.

"We'll see if we've got any pride," Perno said.

FRESHMEN PITCHERS SURPRISE: With as many aces as are present in the SEC Tournament, unheralded pitchers and mostly freshmen dominated the first day.

After Arkansas starting pitcher Randall Fant lasted only two-thirds of an inning, Brandon Moore was the only relief pitcher necessary. The freshman right-hander tossed 8.1 innings, allowing just six hits and two runs.

Moore gave up two hits and a squeeze bunt to give the Crimson Tide a run in the third inning, and he left a fastball over the plate that Taylor Dugas hit out to right field in the sixth inning. Outside of those two problems, the freshman cruised.

"It's definitely a confidence booster," Moore said. "Coach told me to throw strikes, and I fell behind a lot early. I'm thankful he stuck with me through that. I was able to regain my feel after that."

Moore only recorded two strikeouts, but his fastball's sinking action produced ground balls to keep him out of trouble. Moore's steady progress on the mound allowed Arkansas to cut the deficit to three runs, but that's as close as the Razorbacks would get.

"He gave us a chance and we made it a ball game," Arkansas head coach Dave van Horn said. "We had a real chance."

Mississippi State freshman Evan Mitchell was also impressive. The right-hander didn't factor in the decision, but he went five innings, allowing five hits and two runs while striking out five. Mitchell's fastball sat in the low 90s but wasn't always accurate, as he walked four hitters. He showed a good arm that could help the Bulldogs, who have been searching for an ace on the mound for the entire season.

Mitchell walked Florida leadoff hitter Nolan Fontana to start his outing, and Fontana scored on a double by Preston Tucker. He chalked it up to the nerves of pitching in a big atmosphere.

"I was anxious in that first inning to get it going," Mitchell said. "After a couple pitches, I felt acclimated to the game and got in a rhythm."

It's easy to see why Mitchell can be a frontline starting pitcher for the Bulldogs because of his good fastball, but his control was the issue on Wednesday. He allowed too many free base runners to No. 2 Florida, and that kept him from going deeper into the game and potentially getting into a rhythm.

"Outstanding," Bulldogs head coach Joe Cohen said of Mitchell's overall performance, "(but) the four walks are what kept us in jeopardy."

Vanderbilt freshman T.J. Pecoraro threw 3.1 scoreless innings in the nightcap before he was removed from the game because of what head coach Tim Corbin called "a twinge in his forearm." He was relieved by freshman Kevin Ziomek, who was watching the game with his teammates in the dugout. Ziomek got as much time on the mound to warm up as he wanted, but it was still a strange situation.

"It was different," Ziomek said. "They say we should always expect to pitch every night. I just went in when I was called on. I was a little surprised, though."

He settled in well, tossing 3.2 scoreless innings without allowing a hit. The freshmen duo combined to throw a one-hit shutout.

It would have been the first one-hitter in SEC Tournament history, but because the game ended in seven innings because of mercy rule when Vanderbilt took a 10-0 lead, less than nine inning games don't count in the pitching records.

WIND AIDED: The large dimensions of Regions Park and the new bats this season made it easy to expect the power numbers to be down this week. In four games the first day, the teams combined to hit four home runs, the same number teams hit in the first day of the tournament last year with the old bats. However, this year's number would've been lower if it weren't for the wind.

Taylor Dugas started it in the first game with a sixth inning home run to right field. The center fielder came into the game with five home runs on the season and isn't known for his power, but he lined one over the right field fence to give the Crimson Tide some insurance.

"It helped with the wind blowing out a little bit," Dugas said. "It was just a pitch left over the middle (of the plate), and I put a good swing on it."

Florida designated hitter Brian Johnson hit a grand slam in the second game of the day, giving the Gators a 6-5 lead they wouldn't relinquish. It didn't look like that would be the case when the ball was hit. The left-handed Johnson pulled a ball that looked like it would end up well into foul territory. Instead, the wind was blowing out to left field, which pushed the ball back into play, where it snuck over the right field fence.

"When I first hit it, I thought it was going way right (of the foul pole)," Johnson said. "I remembered the wind was blowing out to left, so when I looked up, it was staying as straight as an arrow."

The wind caused more issues when Florida center fielder Bryson Smith misjudged a fly ball off the bat that landed over his head for a two-run triple by Nick Vickerson, giving the Bulldogs an early 3-1 lead.

Jason Esposito launched a solo home run for Vanderbilt to lead off their three-run second inning. He hit it well but looked like he got too much air under it off the bat. With the flags behind the left field fence blowing out, the ball carried just over the glove of leaping Georgia left fielder Zack Cone.

The only no-doubter came as Vickerson hit a blast well over the left field fence against Florida reliever Nick Maronde.


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