Two teams projected to be participants in the SEC Tournament meet this weekend in Knoxville as the #20 Vanderbilt Commodores take on the Tennessee Volunteers. Projected is the key word because both teams could make the field in Hoover but both could miss the field as well. It has been a weird year in the SEC, so anything is possible with these two teams. Expect big crowds in a series that will go a long way in determining entry into Hoover as well as regionals. Both teams could use a series victory. See which team gets the nod as we preview this series and a few more.
SERIES OF THE WEEKEND
#20 Vanderbilt (31-13 Overall, 11-9 SEC East) at Tennessee (25-20 Overall, 11-10 SEc East)
Tensions will be high for both teams this weekend. There is lots at stake in this crucial series between the #20 Commodores and the Volunteers. Vanderbilt dropped two at home to #14 Kentucky last week and had the week off to think about it. Tennessee lost two of three at Mississippi State last weekend, which might hurt the Vols in the discussion for a regional berth, and then lost to Western Carolina on Tuesday. This is not how the Vols invisioned their last week to go with three huge weekends left against top-tiered SEC East foes.
Tim Corbin's Commodore squad has been stringing wins together after junior All-American Pedro Alvarez returned from an injury early in the season. His team is hitting at at .305 clip, 39 HRS, and 265 RBI (305 runs total). Alavarez is hitting .299, with 3 HRs and 13 RBI; not steller numbers for the potential first round pick but his bat being back in the lineup has helped. The leading hitter for the Dores is senior outfielder David Macias (.368 average, 6 HRs, 20 RBIs). Senior outfielder Dominic de la Osa (.310, 6, 32) lead the team in stolen bases with 21, while junior Ryan Flaherty (.316, 11, 45) leads the team in homeruns.
For the second week in a row in our preview, I analyze a team with a first year head coach. The Vols head man, Todd Raleigh, sees his team hitting .294, with 49 HRs and 247 RBI (282 runs on the season). Sophomore Yan Gomes (.350, 5, 33) leads the Vols in hitting and senior Shawn Griffin (.340, 11, 34) leads with 11 homeruns. Senior Andy Simunic (.289, 1, 8) has swiped 20 bases in 23 attempts as the Vols have swiped 54 bases on the season.
Commodore pitching has not been consistant as it was last year. Of course, losing a certain guy named Price hurts on the mound. Friday night starter, sophomore Mike Minor (4-3, 3.86 ERA, 77 K), went six innings last week giving up one unearned run on five hits and nine strikeouts while picking up the Dores lone win on the weekend. Redshirt Freshman Caleb Cotham (6-3, 3.77, 65) only went 4 1/3 innings last Saturday giving up six runs on seven hits and striking out four. Junior Nick Christiani (5-2, 3.64, 48) did all he could do last Sunday by pitching a complete game. He allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits and struck out five, but was the hard luck loser. As a team, the Dores have a 4.21 team ERA and have struck out 429 in 398 innings of work. Redshirt freshman Russell Brewer leads the team with five saves.
The Vols team ERA is 4.96 with 344 strikeouts in 395 1/3 innings of work on the season. The staff pitched pretty well in Starkville but could only muster one victory in the series. Redshirt freshman Bryan Morgado (5-2, 3.20, 86) heads up the staff and picked up the victory last Saturday. He went six innings, struck out eight, and gave up three runs (two earned) on four hits. Sophomore Nick Hernandez (1-3, 4.82, 42) received a no decision in the 12 inning game last Friday but went seven and gave up two runs on five hits. Last Sunday saw an 8 inning rain shortened game; however, junior Ty'Relle Harris (2-1, 3.75, 45) was saddled with the loss as he went six innings while allowing six runs (five earned) on nine hits while striking out six. The staff has been generous with the long ball as they have given up 51 on the season.
Lindsey Nelson Stadium should be buzzing with anticipation when the series starts on Friday. Not only is this a rivalry, but the two teams need to stockpile wins down the stretch. Vanderbilt is attempting to make a case for hosting a regional and a series win here would do them wonders. I think they will get the two with Morgado winning the Saturday ballgame.
REMAINING TOP FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
#17 Coastal Carolina (37-9, 12-3 Big South) at Georgia Tech (31-13, 12-12 ACC)
The Yellow Jackets entertain the Chanticleers in a huge non-conference series this weekend in Atlanta. Coastal Carolina looks to pick up valuable RPI points that could go a long way to put them in position to possibly host a regional. Both come in off series wins last weekend. Coastal wins two at Tech.
Mississippi (30-17, 11-10 SEC West) at #8 Georgia (29-14, 15-5 SEC East)
Right now these would be the top two seeds in Hoover. Here's a little preview looking out a few weeks. The Bulldogs hold a 3.5 game lead in the SEC and are coming off their first SEC series defeat this year. The Rebels dropped a series at home to Arkansas last weekend and will lose this series in Athens, 2-1.
#13 Cal-State Fullerton (27-15, 11-4 Big West) at UC-Santa Barbara (29-14, 8-4 Big West)
First place is on the line in the Big West this weekend in Santa Barbara. Both took two last weekend and come in winners of 7 of their last 10. The Titans are in position to move way ahead in the conference standings and potentially solidify their regional hosting spot. The Gauchos have played well and will have to get some timely hitting to take the series. Titans 2-1.
#25 Arizona (30-13, 7-8 Pac 10) at #19 California (27-14, 7-8 Pac 10)
It is that time of year where bubbles get burst. This series has "bubble-bursting" written all over it; well maybe not totally bursting as they are both still ranked right now. Arizona has started to heat back up with victories in 8 of their last 10, while Cal has dropped four in a row. Look for the Wildcats to get above .500 in conference play with their two victories this weekend.
FIVE OTHER SERIES WORTH KEEPING AN EYE ON
#26 College of Charleston (30-14, 13-5 SoCon) at UNC-Greensboro (26-19, 11-7 SoCon)
The Cougars swept The Citadel last weekend to get within one game of the top spot in the Southern Conference. Greensboro has lost four in-a-row including the last two in the series last weekend against first place Elon. Look for the Cougars to take the series and even the race in the SoCon.
#29 Florida (27-16, 12-9 SEC East) at #15 South Carolina (31-14, 11-10 SEC East)
The Gators received a big boost by taking two from first place Georgia last weekend in Gainesville. They now travel to Columbia for another big series against the Gamecocks, who were swept last weekend in Baton Rouge. Look for South Carolina to bounce back in a big series win, 2-1.
Alabama (26-21, 10-11 SEC West) at Arkansas (27-18, 9-11 SEC West)
This has been a rough year for the Razorbacks but all can be forgotten if they can make the push and make it to Hoover. They are 8-2 in their last 10 including a big series win in Oxford last weekend. The Crimson Tide sit in the 8th spot right now but clearly sit on the bubble along with Arkansas. After taking two from rival Auburn last week, the Tide will lose two on the road in NW Arkansas.
#10 San Diego (35-12, 13-2 West Coast) at Pepperdine (27-13, 8-3 West Coast)
The Toreros have been white hot winning 16 in-a-row until hitting the loss column on Tuesday at Fullerton. The Waves are 8-3 in their last 11 and ride a four game win streak. They could catch San Diego in the conference standings with a sweep, but it will not happen as San Diego widens the gap with a sweep of their own.
Louisiana State (29-16, 9-11 SEC West) at #14 Kentucky (34-11, 11-10 SEC East)
Our upset special of the week has the Tigers taking two this weekend in Lexington. The Tigers have found "that form" from years past after sweeping the Gamecocks last weekend. The Wildcats did take two in a big series last week against Vanderbilt but will falter a bit at home this weekend.
Other Series of Note
#27 Southern Mississippi at Marshall