The 2002 SEC Baseball Tournament kicked off early Wednesday morning with 3rd-seeded Florida and 6th-seeded Georgia, two Eastern Division rivals, going head to head. The Gators fell behind early but regained the lead and never looked back, cruising to a 7-2 win over the Georgia Bulldogs. The second game of the day, (2) Alabama and (7) Mississippi State was the most lopsided game of the tournament. MSU jumped on top 2-0 in the first inning but Alabama answered and cruised home. The Tide won 12-2 in an eight-inning game, called early because of the ten-run rule. The first game of the second half of the day matched the 4 and 5 seeds, LSU and Auburn. The two teams played the lowest scoring game of this year’s tournament, with two wonderful pitchers going at it in a major league-type pitcher’s duel. In the end, however, LSU scored two runs, and that was enough to send Auburn into the losers’ bracket with a one-run loss. The final game of day one featured the top and bottom seeds, South Carolina and Arkansas. South Carolina put together several good innings and went home with a fairly easy 10-1 victory.
The first two games scheduled for Thursday were losers’ bracket games, the first game at 10:00am matching the SEC’s two Bulldogs, Mississippi State and Georgia. State jumped on top early and never looked back, taking a 10-3 win thanks to the excellent pitching performance by Paul Maholm. Game two also pitted two teams trying to squeeze their way into the NCAA Tournament. Arkansas and Auburn played a close game, but the Hogs came up with a much-needed 8-5 win and sent the Tigers home early. The night games included two matchups of winners’ bracket teams. The winners would get Friday off and come back only needing to win one of two games on Saturday to advance to the SEC Championship Game on Sunday. The 5:00pm start time was when Florida and Alabama took the field. The Tide, backed by their home crowd, overtook the Gators by a score of 7-4 and could look forward to a day off. The final game of day two brought South Carolina, the number one seed but a team with very little past tournament success, and LSU, a four seed who has as much college baseball history as anyone in the country. The traditionally-successful Tigers came out on top by a score of 8-3 in this contest, forcing South Carolina to play on Friday.
Only two games were scheduled for Friday, both elimination games. The 3:00pm contest pitted (7) Mississippi State against (2) Florida and Pat McMahon, the former Bulldogs coach. The two teams played a one-run game until late in the contest when the Bulldogs inability to score clutch runs caught up with them and Florida cruised home with a 5-0 shutout win. The second and final game of Friday matched up Arkansas and South Carolina for the fifth time this season and the second time in three days. Just as last time, the Gamecocks were able to come away with the win. This time, however, the score was a bit tighter, 6-2, and the Hogs were sent back to Fayetteville.
As many as four games or as few as two games could be played at the Hoover Met on Saturday. With Florida already coming in with one loss and Alabama yet to lose in the tournament, the Gators had to knock off the Tide to force a second game Saturday afternoon and have a chance to advance to Sunday’s championship game. A Tide win in either game would send Bama to the championship game. The 10:00am contest was controlled by UF. A late Bama rally wasn’t enough as the Gators won 6-4 and forced a second contest between the two teams later that evening. First, however, the LSU Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks had to play. USC was in the same situation as Florida, needing two wins to advance to Sunday. LSU needed only one win in either of the two games. The Tigers and Gamecocks went back and forth for the entire game, but in the end, two four-run innings by South Carolina proved to be the difference as the Gamecocks won 10-8 and forced a second game between the two teams later that night. The second matchup of Gators and Tide began at 5:00pm Saturday night. After a back-and-forth battle for half of the game, the Tide jumped out to a lead. A last-inning threat by the Gators was ended on a double play as the Tide held on for a 11-9 win and clinched a spot in Sunday’s Championship Game. Up next was the day’s second meeting of South Carolina and LSU. This game was tight all the way. The Tigers were down 5-4 after scoring two runs already in the ninth inning and still had the bases loaded with no one out. A ground ball to shortstop resulted in a double play and because of interference on the runner at second, the runners were sent back to second and third. Now, however, there were two outs. After an intentional walk, a ground ball to short ended the game and sent USC into Sunday’s championship game.
Alabama roared into Sunday’s SEC Championship Game backed by a crowd of over 13,000, most of which was rooting for the Tide. Alabama scored five runs in the first two innings and never looked back. A 6-2 victory made the Crimson Tide the 2002 SEC Tournament Champions, following Mississippi State’s Tournament Championship one year ago.
There is a very definite distinction between the SEC’s top four teams and the bottom
four teams. Florida and South Carolina from the East, and Alabama and LSU from the
West, are the conference’s only four teams to finish the conference season with winning
records. The four other teams in the conference tournament, Georgia from the East, and
Mississippi State, Arkansas, and Auburn from the West, are contending for somewhere
between two and four spots, depending on what the NCAA Committee feels is deserving.
Below is a comparison of those four teams based on their performance throughout the
2002 college baseball season:
GA -- 3-1
Ark -- 2-1
GA -- 2-1
Aub -- 1-2
Ark -- 2-1
Aub -- 3-1
GA -- 1-2
To begin with, I think the SEC will place seven teams into regionals. According to these stats, each of these four teams was just a couple of key wins away from already having assured themselves a spot in this year’s tournament. MSU gave away a few SEC games and also lost a few non-conference games (such as New Orleans) that they should have won. If they were one win better in the conference and three wins better overall, they would definitely be in. The Bulldogs’ RPI could also hurt them. Auburn doesn’t have a lot of spectacular wins, but they are one of only two of these four teams with a .500 conference record. The RPI is also good. However, a two-and-out showing at the conference tournament didn’t help any. Georgia’s record is not very impressive at all. Non-conference losses have hurt this team bad: Gardner Webb, James Madison, Tennessee Tech, Georgia Southern, etc. If they had won three more non-conference games, they would be at 33-24 and basically have an equal record as MSU and Auburn. However, at 19, their RPI will not hurt their cause. Arkansas came on strong at the end and now has a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Their record is just barely better than UGA’s, but they have a losing conference record. Also, the Razorback RPI is not as impressive. Two losses each to McNeese State, SWMO, and SEMO have put a dent in the Hogs’ case.
Of the four teams, I think there are threes spots to fill. I believe that the first goes to Auburn, mainly because of their .500 conference record and good overall record. After Auburn, the situation is tough to figure out. Mississippi State came on strong at the end, winning six of their last eight games. Their record is basically the same as Auburn’s overall though they’re one game below .500. The one tournament win probably makes the difference. The second spot goes to Mississppi State.
The question now becomes who is next. The committee could see both teams as deserving and let them both into regional action. Or they could say that it was a down year in the SEC and allow only six bids. The toughest choice would be choosing between Arkansas and Georgia. While UGA was struggling to the finish line and going two-and-out in the tournament, Arkansas won five of their last six SEC games and knocked off Auburn in the tournament. Therefore, in my opinion, the final spot in the NCAA Tournament would go to the Razorbacks.
That, however, doesn’t mean Georgia would be left out. Just one season ago, the NCAA took eight SEC teams into the baseball regionals. Even the Mississippi Rebels, who did not even participate in the SEC Tournament, are still holding practice in hopes of receiving a bid. There is no way that the SEC (in my opinion) would receive nine bids and also no way that the NCAA would choose a team not in the conference tournament over a team that was in the conference tournament.
The NCAA Baseball Selection Show will be shown Monday morning at 11:30am (CT) on ESPN2. The college baseball field of 64 will be announced as each team will find out where (or if) they will be playing baseball this weekend. At each regional, there will be two games on Friday, three games on Saturday, and one or possibly two games on Sunday, all barring the weather’s interference. Last year, all but two of the regional hosts won their respective regionals (Mississippi State won at Columbus, OH and Florida International won at South Bend, IN). Look for each regional’s bracket to be posted on this site on Monday evening. Also, regional projections will be posted later in the week before the college baseball action heats back up on Friday afternoon. Links to live stats and all the regional info you could ask for will be added. Check back throughout the week as the site will likely be updated each and every day leading up to the beginning of the Road to Omaha.REGIONAL HOST SITES ANNOUNCED (OR SO I THOUGHT)
I was planning to give a list of the regional host sites for this season, but by the time I was ready to post the article, I could not find the listing of the different sites for this season. The announcement was supposed to come sometime Sunday, but apparently the NCAA changed its mind. Oh well. Look for that list Monday afternoon along with the individual regions’ brackets.