SEC Tournament Notebook - Day 2

HOOVER, Ala.- Georgia head coach Dave Perno wouldn't share the message he gave his team after Wednesday's loss, but it worked. The Bulldogs came into Thursday's matchup with Auburn with the loser's season coming to an end. It wasn't pretty for either team, but Georgia was able to extend its season after securing a 3-2 win.

"It wasn't necessarily PG rated," Perno said of his talk with his team after their 10-0 loss to Vanderbilt Wednesday night. "I just told them flat out and said we don't want to be the sympathy team that played the tough schedule and had adversity. We wanted to be a team that was respected. If we came up short and didn't get where we wanted to go, I told them to at least show their identity today. I felt like we did that."

Auburn took an early 2-0 lead, scoring on a solo home run by Casey McElroy in the fourth inning and a Tony Caldwell RBI single in the fifth. Auburn ace Derek Varnadore was cruising until the sixth inning.

Georgia used two singles to get first and third in the sixth inning, and Zach Cone lined an RBI double down the left field line to get on the board. Chase Davidson followed with what looked like a routine ground out to shortstop to end the inning, but McElroy made a throwing error and allowed two runs to score.

The mistake gave Georgia momentum, and starting pitcher Alex Wood pitched better with a lead, allowing only one hit to the Tigers in the final three innings.

"If we don't win, we go home," Georgia left fielder Zack Cone said. "We were pressing yesterday and all excited. We had to just take a deep breath and our mindset was to just have fun.

Georgia now must win two more games to make the NCAA Tournament, starting on Friday when they take on South Carolina. Auburn's season ended with a 29-29 record because of an NCAA rule that teams must be above .500 to earn a tournament bid.

The frustration for Auburn was centered on missed opportunities. Wood allowed nine base runners in the first five innings, but the Tigers weren't able to put together a big inning. After McElroy's home run to start the fourth inning, Caldwell doubled and Wes Gilmer reached on a throwing error on his bunt attempt, giving the Tigers first and third with no outs.

It would stay that way. Kevin Patterson and Cullen Wacker both struck out swinging and Zach Alvord hit a ground ball to shortstop for the last out of the inning.

"It's very frustrating," Patterson said. "When you miss opportunities like that against anybody in this league, it's going to be tough (to win)."

Mississippi State went two-and-out after losing to Arkansas on Thursday, but the Bulldogs appear to be safely in the NCAA Tournament with a projected RPI in the mid-20s.

"I've never sat on that committee and had to make the tough decisions they have to make, but if you look at the full body of work, I would think that we're in the tournament," Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said.

SOUTH CAROLINA-VANDERBILT LIVES UP TO HYPE: The marquee matchup on paper Thursday was the final game, as two top-five teams matched up with a berth in the winner's bracket on the line. For the first eight innings, it lived up to the hype.

The Commodores got two runs in the first inning on an error by South Carolina second baseman Scott Wingo and a passed ball.

The Gamecocks could only muster two runs off Vanderbilt ace Sonny Gray, who lasted 6.1 innings, allowing five hits and striking out seven in front of a packed section of scouts behind home plate.

The 7-2 win for the Commodores was important for confidence after they lost two of three games at South Carolina earlier in the year.

"We wanted to win no matter who's across the field," Gray said. "That was two really good teams just going at it."

Vanderbilt used a four-run inning in the ninth to give closer Navery Moore a cushion. Head coach Tim Corbin was aggressive in the dugout, calling squeeze plays to score the first and third runs of the inning. The second run scored after he called a double steal and Jason Esposito bounced a single up the middle.

"We wanted to try and do that earlier, but we just couldn't get the runners on base," Corbin said. "Once we got some runners in scoring positions, we were able to steal a little bit and push some runners across the plate."

The other positive came from the bullpen. In series losses against South Carolina and Florida, the Vanderbilt bullpen blew games and eliminated their chances to win the series. Thursday night was different.

Corey Williams, Will Clinard and Navery Moore threw the final 2.2 innings and allowed just two hits.

Williams loaded the bases by hitting a batter, giving up a single and then a walk with two outs. Corbin left him in the game to face Scott Wingo, who grounded into a fielder's choice.

"We just pitched well in the clutch situations," Corbin said. "We were a tick away from maybe losing the lead on a base hit, but the kids didn't give in. It was a growing point for Corey Williams because we've been trying to get him through those situations, and he did tonight."

Vanderbilt and Florida, who beat Alabama 6-0 Thursday, will both get Friday off and await their Saturday opponent. South Carolina will play Georgia Friday with the loser being eliminated.

CHANGE IN APPROACH PAYS DIVIDENDS: Arkansas head coach Dave van Horn was upset his team at the plate during Wednesday's 7-4 loss to Alabama. The Razorbacks had seen Alabama senior pitcher Nathan Kilcrease multiple times during his career, so the scouting report shouldn't have come as a surprise. Kilcrease pounds the strike zone early in the count.

Instead of swinging early in the count, the Arkansas hitters took pitches and fell into two-strike counts where they didn't see many pitches to hit.

That changed Thursday.

The Razorbacks put together better at-bats against Mississippi State starting pitcher Nick Routt, as they jumped out to a four-run lead to start the game.

"After yesterday, we got together as a team and talked about our approach at the plate and being aggressive," said Arkansas catcher James McCann, who led the way at the plate going 4-for-5 with two runs scored and two RBI. "The approach is just about being aggressive and swinging the bats. We had too many two-strike at-bats yesterday."

Routt lasted only 3.1 innings, giving up eight hits and five runs (four earned). Of the eight hits Arkansas managed off Routt, five came on the first or second pitch of the at-bat.

"We were going to be aggressive," van Horn said. "We felt like yesterday it was always 0-2 or 1-2. We had two strikes on us all the time. We struck out too much yesterday, but today we were aggressive."

FLORIDA FINDS ANSWERS: Left field and center field have been holes in the Florida lineup during recent weeks, but Thursday night, those two positions carried the lineup. Daniel Pigott and Bryson Smith combined to go 8-for-9 at the plate, driving in three runs and scoring three.

"I don't know exactly what was different, but we just came into this game with a good approach," Pigott said. "We didn't try to do too much. We just tried to square the ball up."

And they did. Pigott came into the game with five hits in his previous 28 at-bats. Smith was even worse with five hits in his previous 44 at-bats. They didn't just get hits. Instead, they provided power, as four of their eight hits went for extra bases.

Smith even made a few running catches in center field, one day after misplaying a fly ball and turning it into a two-run triple.

"I talked to (Smith) today before the game just to help him relax because he was pressing a little bit," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "I told him he would stay at the top of the order, and I didn't want him to press. It worked out today, and hopefully he's getting confidence back."

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