Baseball Notebook: SEC Tourney Preview

Kentucky (41-15, 16-14 SEC) secured a four-seed in the SEC Tournament, beginning on Wednesday at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala. UK will face the fifth-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide, a team its swept to open SEC play, in the final game on Wednesday, slated for a 8 p.m. CT first pitch. The Cats qualified by winning five of its last six SEC contests, including sweeping Tennessee in Knoxville.

The SEC baseball tournament is traditionally viewed as a precursor to the NCAA baseball tournament, as generally an invitation to it will also result in an invitation to the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats appear secure for the NCAA tournament as well. Their 41 wins leads all SEC teams, and being nationally ranked virtually all season, and with a strong RPI (31 entering the weekend), the Cats appear to be a solid lock for the invitation. Of course, winning the SEC baseball tournament would automatically qualify the Cats for the tournament, and UK is also in the running to host a regional, so the tournament remains important. Here's a quick look at what we'll see this week in Hoover, Alabama.

Red-hot teams. One SEC team is blazing hot right now, the LSU Tigers. A few weeks ago LSU sat at 6-11-1 in the SEC, and appeared destined to be one of the four bottom teams in the conference to not qualify for the tournament. Since then LSU has done little wrong, as the Tigers have won 18 consecutive ballgames, including 12 consecutive SEC outings as the Tigers are the hottest team in college baseball at the moment.

Two teams also enter the tournament having won seven of their last 10 contests -- the Kentucky Wildcats and the Alabama Crimson Tide. The teams will face each other in Wednesday night's finale at 8 p.m. CT.

What about Georgia (35-19-1, 20-9-1)? The Bulldogs won the SEC regular season, and dominated SEC play for most of the season. In recent play, however, Georgia has become mortal, with a mediocre 5-5 mark in their last ten SEC games. They are still a force to be reckoned with, however, and underestimate the Bulldogs at your own risk.

Parity in the conference. Georgia's stellar record of 20 SEC wins and LSU's 18-game winning streak notwithstanding, great parity evidenced itself throughout the SEC season this year. Six SEC teams sported conference records between 16-14 and 14-15 this year, with the difference determining seeds 4, 5, 6, 7, 8...and the 9th team, Arkansas (33-22, 14-15) having no invitation to go to Hoover.

Stars recognized. Four SEC players were recently named as national semi-finalists by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, given to the top player in college baseball. The list, which includes only 16 players from throughout the country, includes two Wildcats--outfielders Sawyer Carroll and Collin Cowgill. The list also includes Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham and South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak.

The Dick Howser Trophy, given in memory of the former Florida State University All-America shortstop and major league player and manager who died of brain cancer in 1987, is regarded by many as college baseball's most prestigious award.

Criteria for consideration for the trophy include performance on the field, leadership, moral character and courage, qualities that were exemplified by Dick Howser's life.

In addition to the Dick Howser Trophy nominees, the SEC also sports two Roger Clemens Awards semi-finalists, given to the top college pitchers as selected by Division I coaches and selected media. Georgia's Joshua Fields and Ole Miss' Scott Bittle are both among only 10 semi-final nominees for the awards. Wildcat fans saw Scott Bittle enter the game in relief in the 4th inning in Lexington Saturday in a must-win game, and pick up the win, giving up only one run as the game was won by Ole Miss in 11 innings.

Coming into this weekend, Bittle a junior right-hander from Texarkana, Tex., was 5-1 on the season with a 1.48 earned run average and seven saves. Bittle had struck out 99 batters in only 54.2 innings. His ERA also ranked fourth nationally.

Georgia's Fields, a right-hander from Hull, Ga., picked up his NCAA-best 16th save Tuesday night in the Bulldogs' 3-2 win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta. He was also 1-1 with a 0.66 ERA, and had struck out 49 opponents in 27.1 innings entering the final SEC series against Alabama.


Wednesday, May 21
Game 1 10:00 a.m. #7 South Carolina vs. #2 LSU [CSS HD] (XM 199)
Game 2 1:00 p.m. #6 Vanderbilt vs. #3 Florida [CSS HD] (XM 199)
Game 3 5:00 p.m. #8 Ole Miss vs. #1 Georgia [CSS HD]
Game 4 8:00 p.m. #5 Alabama vs. #4 Kentucky [CSS HD]

Thursday, May 22
Game 5 10:00 a.m. Loser G1 vs. Loser G2 [CSS HD] (XM 199)
Game 6 1:00 p.m. Loser G3 vs. Loser G4 [CSS HD] (XM 199)
Game 7 5:00 p.m. Winner G1 vs. Winner G2 [CSS HD] (XM 199)
Game 8 8:00 p.m. Winner G3 vs. Winner G4 [CSS HD] (XM 199)

Friday, May 23
Game 9 3:00 p.m. Winner G5 vs. Loser G7 [FSN HD] (XM 199)
Game 10 6:30 p.m. Winner G6 vs. Loser G8 [FSN]

Saturday, May 24
Game 11 10:00 a.m. Winner G8 vs. Winner G9 [FSN HD] (XM 199)
Game 12 1:30 p.m. Winner G7 vs. Winner G10 [FSN HD] (XM 199)
Game 13* 5:00 p.m. Winner G11 vs. Loser G11 [CSS HD] (XM 199)
Game 14* 8:00 p.m. Winner G12 vs. Loser G12 [CSS HD] (XM 199)

Sunday, May 25
Game 15* 3:00 p.m. Winner G13 vs. Winner G14 [FSN HD] (XM 199)

* - If both bracket winners are undefeated, there will be no 5 p.m. or 8 p.m. games on Saturday and the championship game Sunday would be Game 13.

All Times are Central

[FSN/FSN HD] - FSN South, FSN Southwest, Sun Sports
[CSS/CSS HD] - Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast

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