SEC Baseball Race is Insane

With three weeks to go in the SEC schedule the race for the conference baseball title is as tight as I have ever seen. Just look at the standings.

LSU 14-7
Georgia 14-7
Arkansas 13-7
Florida 13-8
Ole Miss 13-8
Alabama 12-9

That's amazing. The top half of the conference is all within two games with five teams within a game of the top spot. You could easily argue that the Gators have the toughest schedule the rest of the way, but no matter how you look at it the stretch run should be fascinating.

The stretch run begins Friday night when the Gators play the Georgia Bulldogs up in Athens. Florida will follow that road trip with a journey to Baton Rouge to face LSU. That gives Florida six straight on the road against the top two teams (currently) in the standings.

The good thing about the schedule is that it gives Kevin O'Sullivan's team almost complete control of its destiny. Florida still cannot catch Arkansas unless the Razorbacks drop a game, but that's the furthest thing on the Gators' minds.

Florida (31-14) heads to Athens having won 10-of-12 overall and 6-of-8 in the SEC. The Gators are tops in the SEC with a 3.59 team ERA, despite relying heavily on freshmen pitchers this season. However it'll be senior Stephen Locke (3-0, 2.97) getting the ball Friday night to try and set the tone in the series opener. He'll be followed by freshman Anthony DeSclafani (4-1, 3.02) who is a very impressive first year pitcher.

A big key for the Gators has been a bullpen that just keeps improving and putting up great numbers. Junior Billy Bullock has finally harnessed his considerable talents and has already posted eight saves after the entire team managed just ten a year ago. Fellow junior Tony Davis (5-0 2.81) has been exceptional as has been freshman Greg Larson (3-1, 1.12). Jeff Barfield, Alex Panteliodis and Nick Maronde add depth to the staff and one of them will likely get the start on Sunday.

Offensively first baseman Preston Tucker might be the league's top newcomer with his incredible production (.344, 9, 57). Tucker's emergence as an every day power threat is a big part of the Florida lineup becoming much more dangerous. Add in senior outfielder Avery Barnes (.364, 7, 35) and sophomore Josh Adams (.343, 5, 35) and you have three very productive hitters in the middle of the lineup. Florida would be even better if highly regarded junior centerfielder Matt den Dekker (.305, 5, 24) could get hot the rest of the way.

As for the rest of the contenders this weekend, LSU is at Arkansas, Ole Miss visits Auburn and Alabama takes on Mississippi State in Starkville.

If the Gators are successful the next two weekends they may well have a chance to claim an SEC Title in the season's final weekend against Kentucky May 14-16.

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