Once again, the SECís Baseball Tournament will be held at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Alabama, just outside of Birmingham. This yearís participants, the top two teams from each division of the SEC, followed by the next four best teams in the conference, inlcude (1) South Carolina, (3) Florida, and (6) Georgia from the Eastern Division and (2) Alabama, (4) LSU, (5) Auburn, (7) Mississippi State, and (8) Arkansas from the Western Division. Tournament play will begin Wednesday with four games on that day and Thursday as well. There will two games on Friday followed by Saturdayís action which could include as few as two or as many as four games. The SEC Championship Game will be played on Sunday afternoon at 3:00pm. The 2001 Tournament was won by Mississippi State over LSU.
The tournament follows the same format as the College World Series, with two mini-brackets of four teams each. The winner of each bracket meet in a one-game championship. The top half of the SECís bracket includes Florida and Georgia, from the East, and Alabama and Mississippi State from the West. The Division-rivals will meet during the first half of opening day with game times set for 10:00am and 1:00pm. The bottom half of the bracket includes South Carolina from the East and LSU, Auburn, and Arkansas, all from the West. South Carolina and Arkansas will meet in the final game of the opening day (8:00pm) while the remaining two Division-rivals will square off in the third game of the day at 5:00pm. Game times for the second day are identical to those of day one.
The top half of the bracket will lead off the tournament, beginning with the Florida/Georgia game. The Gators are on a roll, coming off a sweep of struggling Kentucky to end the SEC regular season. Meanwhile, Georgia lost all three games at home to South Carolina to end their regular season. The Gators pitching has been questionable at times this season though their hitting has been just the opposite. They lead the SEC in many hitting categories and usually get the job done with their offense. On the other side, Georgia has been a surprise team in 2002. Many thought they would be down following the departure of coach Ron Polk back to Mississippi State. However, Dave Perno has stepped in and picked up where Polk left off. The Bulldogs will almost certainly get a second-straight bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Game two of the day features teams going in opposite directions. Alabama and Mississippi State, two Western Division rivals, will meet at the Hoover Met at 1:00pm. The Crimson Tide is coming off a bad weekend in which they lost all three games to LSU. In doing so, they gave up any chance of winning the SEC regular season title. Mississippi State, however, completed a sweep of in-state rival Mississippi and squeezed into the SEC Tournament just ahead of Arkansas. The Bulldogs had their best offensive weekend of the year against the Rebels and probably their best overall combination of good hitting and good pitching as well. Alabama, coming off their only real slump of the year, is looking to rebound in time to take on the Dawgs in front of their home crowd backing of Tide fans. MSU likely needs a couple wins to ensure a NCAA tournament berth. This is the 16th straight season MSU has been playing in the conference baseball tournament.
The bottom half of the bracket begins with game three, which is when LSU and Auburn square off. These two Western Division rivals have had their ups and downs this season. The Tigers of LSU are playing thier best baseball of the season right now, as is usual with an LSU team. Auburn is also playing well, though they were only able to win one game from Arkansas in Fayetteville this past weekend. Auburn will likely have the home crowd behind them this game and any following games in the tournament.
South Carolina and Arkansas will complete the first dayís action. This 1 vs 8 matchup features two teams who were fighting for a lot even in the last weekend of the regular season. USC was able to go on the road and sweep the Georgia Bulldogs, and in the process, claim the SEC regular season title. Meanwhile, Arkansas took on Auburn and needed two wins to assure themselves of an SEC Tournament date in Hoover. A 4-1 win on Sunday clinched the berth for the Hogs. South Carolina has been solid all season long and will likely have the right to host an NCAA regional. Arkansas will likely need a few wins to keep their NCAA hopes alive.
(3) Florida vs (6) Georgia: The Bulldogs are struggling and the Gators firepower offense will be too tough. My pick: Gators.....
(2) Alabama vs (7) Mississippi State: MSU is on a roll and needs wins to make the NCAA Tournament while Alabama has their spot assured in the NCAA Tournament. My pick: Dawgs.....
(4) LSU vs (5) Auburn: Home crowd goes to Auburn but itís hard to deny LSU in postseason play. My pick: Tigers of LSU.....
(1) South Carolina vs (8) Arkansas: USCís position in the tournament is also reserved. The Hogs are playing well now, but it probably wonít be enough. My pick: Gamecocks.....
Other Bracket Notes:
Toughest Half: Top Half (Florida, Georiga, Alabama, Mississippi State) -- but just barely
Potential Let-Down Team: South Carolina
Potential Surprise Team: Mississippi State
My Pick for the Final Four: Florida, Mississippi State, LSU, South Carolina
Championship Game: Florida vs LSU
Champion: Florida Gators