Sports, Thrill of Victory

Southeastern Conference Baseball snapshot

The Southeastern Conference baseball season is now a third over, and with the SEC attaining the top spot in terms of conference RPI, it’s another strong season for the league. Chris Lee updates everyone on storylines and offers his power rankings as Easter weekend arrives.

Vanderbilt's preseason third-team All-American Hayden Stone is done for the season. PHOTO BY MIKE RAPP OF VANDYSPORTS.COM

Vanderbilt’s preseason third-team All-American Hayden Stone is done for the season. PHOTO BY MIKE RAPP OF VANDYSPORTS.COM

Biggest storylines

1. Vanderbilt’s Hayden Stone is finished for the season. There may not have been a more un-hittable pitch in college baseball than Stone’s slider was last year. The then-freshman used it to post a 4-0 record with a 1.71 ERA and 80 strikeouts (against just 14 walks) in 58 innings a year ago, and coach Tim Corbin trusted him as much as anyone on his staff in key situations. (Stone was, in fact, the winning pitcher in the deciding game of the College World Series). But that slider put a lot of strain on Stone’s elbow, and he clearly wasn’t himself in the few outings he pitched in 2015. Stone elected to have Tommy John surgery (earlier in the week, he tweeted that it was successful) and is officially finished for 2015. The Commodores perhaps have more capable arms than anyone in the country to pick up the slack, but as gifted as those arms are, none of they are Hayden Stone. The good news for VU is that it’s already gone an entire season without effectively having him, and the ‘Dores are still No. 1 in three of college baseball’s five major polls.

2. Carolina’s collapse. One could probably argue that South Carolina has been college baseball’s top program for the last decade. In that time, the Gamecocks have won two national titles, finished runners-up in another season, won a regional in three other seasons, and have been to a regional every year since 2000. This season, though, could put that streak in jeopardy. The Gamecocks have now lost eight of their last 11 contests and though that string started with a bunch of close losses, Carolina has lost the first two games of this weekend’s series to a mediocre Mississippi State team by a combined 20-7 score. The bad news: Carolina’s No. 62 RPI as of this morning probably wouldn’t get it in the NCAA field of 64 if the season ended now. The worse news: the toughest part of the schedule is ahead, as the Gamecocks have four series against consensus top-six-in-the-country teams (Vandy, LSU, Florida, Texas A&M). The silver lining: if Carolina can just hold serve in those series and avoid bad losses elsewhere, the NCAA Tournament bid will take care of itself. The bottom line for now, though, is that I don’t remember the postseason being this uncertain for Carolina at this point of the year in any season in recent memory.

It's been an unexpectedly tough season for perennial power South Carolina. PHOTO COURTESY SOUTH CAROLINA ATHLETICS

It’s been an unexpectedly tough season for perennial power South Carolina. PHOTO COURTESY SOUTH CAROLINA ATHLETICS

3. Georgia’s pitching injuries. Someone may need to check the water in Athens; basketball coach Mark Fox had injury issues all season and now, they’ve made their way over to the baseball diamond. Right now, UGA is missing last year’s freshman All-American Robert Tyler, and another quality starter in David Sosebee (3.12 ERA in 57.2 innings last year). The Bulldogs are also down a couple of bullpen arms, making life tougher for coach Scott Stricklin. UGA has powered through anyway, sweeping a series from Tennessee two weekends ago and taking two of three from Carolina last weekend, but there could be some sleight-of-hand involved here, as UGA won won of the Carolina games despite walking 15 batters. Things didn’t go so well for the Bulldogs on Saturday as they lost their opener, 9-7, to Vanderbilt.

 

Power rankings (SEC record in parenthesis)

  1. Vanderbilt (8-2 SEC)
  2. Texas A&M (7-2)
  3. Florida (6-4)
  4. LSU (6-4)
  5. Alabama (4-7)
  6. Ole Miss (5-5)
  7. Missouri (6-4)
  8. South Carolina (5-6)
  9. Auburn (3-7)
  10. Kentucky (4-5)
  11. Georgia (5-5)
  12. Mississippi State (5-6)
  13. Arkansas (4-6)
  14. Tennessee (2-8)