HOOVER, Ala -- The top three seeds (# 1 Alabama, # 2 Kentucky and # 3 Georgia) in the SEC tournament all fell to lower seeded teams in Wednesday's opening round of the bracket. Tomorrow's early morning contest pits # 2 seed Kentucky vs # 3 seed Georgia in an early-out elimination game. Here are some things you should look for in tomorrow's contest.
Who will Kentucky start pitching tomorrow? In a mild surprise Tuesday, Coach Cohen named Tommy Warner to start today's game against South Carolina, although Warner had only thrown 2-1/3 innings in conference play. Warner responded with a masterful performance, giving up only two hits and a shutout through eight innings before giving up a two-run home run in the ninth. Will Kentucky go back to its normal SEC weekend rotation and start Aaron Tennyson? Or will Kentucky go to the reliable Craig Snipp instead?
Look for Snipp to take the mound. He has started 14 contests this year, throwing 85+ pitches in 13 of the 14, and in his last game going the distance against Georgia to clinch the SEC tournament. Snipp has not thrown since May 19, giving him a full five days between starts, and he should be rested.
Who will start for Georgia?
Left-hander Mickey Westphal took the mound today and did not last long against Vanderbilt, who pounded the Bulldogs with 16 base-hits, 14 of them singles. Junior Brooks Brown would be Georgia's normal rotation next. Brown is a 6-3, 205 right-hander with a 6-3 record, 3.59 ERA. His record in SEC play is 4-3, 4.02 ERA. Brown has started the most for the Bulldogs, but has garnered the second-least amount of run support among all starting pitchers, with the offense providing him only 5.5 runs per game. The other two regular starters, Nathan Moreau and Westphal, meanwhile, are provided with 9.1 and 7.2 runs per game, respectively.
The contest pits two of the hottest teams in the Southeastern Conference, with the loser out. Georgia came into the tournament having won 14 of their last 15, including two-of-three from Kentucky, and held a 7-1 mark in those contests against ranked opponents. Georgia is the only team in the SEC to win four SEC road series this year, so playing away from home is no obstacle to the Bulldogs.
Long-ball versus small-ball. The Bulldogs played their home games this season at Foley Field, with dimensions fairly close to the Hoover Met, except down the right field line, which was a very cozy 314. Dead center was 404 (Hoover Met at 405 is just a foot longer), and the power alleys are 370/365, with left field line being 345 the deepest in the SEC. One might think with ballpark dimensions like that, the Georgia team would be the "small ball" expert, but Vanderbilt put on a clinic against Georgia today, pounding out 16 hits, with 14 of them singles.
Kentucky, of course, also struggled in that regard, hitting too many fly ball outs in the cavernous Hoover Met. Both teams will need to play a different style of ball if they hope to advance in the tournament. Kentucky had 92 home runs on the season, to Georgia's 62.
A Georgia player to watch
Josh Morris is the Bulldog first baseman, slugger equivalent of the Cats own Ryan Strieby. Morris entered the tournament batting .322 with a team-leading 20 home runs and 59 RBI. He also has 48 career home runs, and ranks second all-time at Georgia with 175 career RBI.
Against Kentucky, Morris slammed two home runs, including a grand slam in the Bulldogs 10-9 comeback win in the opening game of the series. Morris received three intentional walks in the next two days, with the Cats pitching him very carefully.
A group of Georgia players to watch. Defensively, Georgia's outfield rivals two of Georgia's finest ever teams--the 1990 national championship squad and the 2004 squad that finished 3rd in the College World Series. The 2006 outfield of Joey Side, Bobby Felmy, Jonathan Wyatt and Kyle Keen have collectively obtained 379 putouts, with 13 assists and only 10 errors. Compared with the 1990 national championons who played 16 more games, and they had only 26 more putouts, with three more assists, but committed six more errors.
The 2004 outfield was identical to the 2006 outfield, with Side, Felmy, Wyatt and Keen playing on both squads.
Bunts and other notes
Georgia and Kentucky both hope to earn national seeds in the NCAA tournament, and both make compelling cases. Although Georgia is the # 3 seed in the SEC, their RPI, as calculated by Boyd's World.com was # 6 nationally, while WarrenNolan.com had them # 8 nationally. The same site also shows the SEC as the # 1 conference nationally, and Kentucky as the "best team" through today.
Georgia took two-of-three from Kentucky in the last SEC series, although Kentucky clinched a share of the SEC regular season championship in the middle game of the series. The loss on Sunday hurt the Batcats, though, as it cost UK a # 1 seed in the tournament and an outright SEC championship due to the tiebreaker employed by the SEC.
One thing to watch from Kentucky bats--the "second time around" factor. Georgia's Brown has pitched into the 7th or later inning in four of the last five contests, including six full innings against Kentucky six days ago. Typically, Kentucky batters enjoy a marked improvement the second time they face a pitcher in the same game--batting .254 with a .430 slugging percentage and 13 home runs when facing a starter the first time around the lineup, but improving to .335 with a .618 slugging percentage and 24 home runs the second time around.
A look far, far ahead--the rest of the SEC tournament.
Should Kentucky be fortunate to win tomorrow and advance, their remaining schedule would be as follows, if they keep winning:
Thursday, 10:00 a.m. - Georgia
Friday, 3:00 p.m. - Vanderbilt/South Carolina loser
Saturday, 10:00 a.m. - Vanderbilt/South Carolina winner
Saturday, 5:00 p.m. -- Rematch of 10:00 a.m. game
Sunday, 3:00 p.m. -- Championship game vs. winner of Bracket Two