Another close race

Life in the Southeastern Conference never gets easy, does it? Headed into last weekend, the goal was to take the series from Florida and root for Ole Miss to drop their series in Starkville. Both happened, yet No. 2 LSU remains only a half game out front for the SEC lead.

After Saturday’s win over then No. 9 Florida, all seemed to be setting up perfect.

Ole Miss (37-15, 17-10 SEC), who had entered the weekend tied with LSU (38-14, 18-9 SEC) for first place in the SEC West, dropped their opening two games to Mississippi State.

Florida, who was tied with both LSU and Ole Miss for first place in the league on Friday, was seeing their chances fade in front of their face.

Still, there remained the threat of the Crimson Tide.

Alabama had won their last six games, a mark that included the opening two games of their series against Arkansas.

Come Sunday night, the Tigers had fallen short of the sweep. Right on cue, Alabama was putting the finishing touches on their seventh straight win.

The results left the Tide a half game behind the Tigers for the conference lead.

Taking in Monday morning’s practice, head coach Paul Mainieri reflected on what could have been.

“Sunday was a disappointment, because we could have done ourselves a lot of good winning that game,” he said. “We just let things get away from us. Florida was able to play really well, and we did not play good at all.

“That is not a very good combination when you are looking to get a win.”

Regardless, the Tiger skipper found the silver lining.

“When you take a step back, you have to see that we beat a top ten team in two out of three games,” he said. “It set us up so that the last weekend of our season we are in control of our own destiny.

“Had you asked me at the beginning of the year if I would have taken this spot, I would have said yes.”

With Alabama (35-15, 17-9 SEC) now hot on the first place trail the week prior to the SEC Tournament, Mainieri said that the shuffle down the stretch is a perfect example of why the league remains the nation’s best.

“I am sure that fans get hired of hearing coaches talk about every team being tough, but in the SEC that is how it is,” he said. “People could not understand how we got beat by Tennessee, but how do you think Ole Miss feels getting beat by Mississippi State this past weekend?

“Anybody can beat anybody on any given day, especially in this league,” he added. “Every team that we have faced has great players, and that is why no team can ever run away with this league. We could take two of three this weekend, get to 20 wins and still not be in first place. That is just baffling.”

With Alabama traveling to Auburn on Thursday, a sweep and an LSU loss would land the Tide the SEC regular season crown.

Ole Miss, who sits a game out of first place, travels to Arkansas (31-17, 14-12) to begin their quest for the top seed in Hoover, Ala.

Regardless, Mainieri is happy with where his team is sitting.

“It would be nice knowing that we only had to win two this weekend, but it is better than being in Alabama or Florida’s position right now,” he said. “They both need help from someone else, and that is the worst spot that you can be in.

“If we can take all three games, then we know that we will win the SEC,” he added. “That is on our minds right now. It is a short week, and with the kids out of school everyone seems to be more focused. I am glad that we are turning things around quickly, because I feel like the guys are ready. We are not held in high regard in Starkville, so I am sure that we will get their best shot.”

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