HOOVER, Ala.—Georgia coach David Perno was embarrassed by his team's showing in Wednesday's 10-0 loss to Vanderbilt. Not because Vandy one-hit and run-ruled the Bulldogs, but because the team simply did not put forth a good effort, even with its season on the line (Georgia needs three wins at the SEC tournament to finish above .500 and be eligible for the NCAA tournament).
So he tried to deliver a message to his team afterward.
"It wasn't necessarily PG rating," Perno said of his address to his team after the Vandy loss. "I told them flat out: You just don't want to be remembered—we don't want to be the sympathy team, the team that had some adversity in the year, played the tough schedule. We want to be respected. Last night we didn't play like that. If you don't go where you want to go, at least show your identity, and I thought we did that today."
Georgia was much crisper in a true elimination game against Auburn, which needed just one win to ensure a winning record and at-large eligibility. The Bulldogs erased a 2-0 deficit with three runs in the sixth, keyed by Zach Cone's RBI double, and sent the Tigers packing, 3-2. Lefthander Alex Wood threw his first complete game of the season, allowing two runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out eight for the Bulldogs. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—After Wednesday's loss to Florida, a reporter asked Mississippi State coach John Cohen if his team needed to display a sense of urgency in the SEC tournament.
"This is our 56th game," Cohen said, "and I can't think of a game we didn't have a sense of urgency. Thats who we are. We haven't been in the SEC tournament in three years. Urgency—that's my middle name. Yes, there will always be a sense of urgency. At practice there's a sense of urgency."
That answer underscores just how important it was for Mississippi State to get back to the SEC tournament for the first time since 2007—when it went 0-2 but caught fire in the NCAA tournament, reaching Omaha in coach Ron Polk's second-to-last season.
The Bulldogs went 0-2 again in 2011, coughing up a 5-2 lead against the Gators and then getting jumped by Arkansas in Thursday morning's elimination game. The Razorbacks took advantage of two MSU errors and two wild pitches to score four runs in the first and cruised to a 7-2 win. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Michael Roth is on the short list of most charismatic players in college baseball. Truly, he's a reporter's dream.
He's also a coach's dream—and not just because he's one of the nation's best pitchers. Because he's honest.
So when Roth told South Carolina coach Ray Tanner that he wanted to pitch in Wednesday's SEC tournament opener instead of Thursday as the coaches had originally planned, Tanner listened to his junior lefthander. Roth, in turn, threw South Carolina's first complete game of the year in a 7-3 win against Auburn.
"You know, over the years that I've been coaching—as an assistant, a head coach, a long time—I've always listened to players, but sometimes you have to really evaluate what you hear," Tanner said. "Sometimes they tell you what you want to hear, and sometimes they're not completely honest and open. But ever since Michael Roth has been in our program, he's been candid from day one.
"He explained why he wanted to go today . . . I said, 'All right, big guy. As long as you're solid with your information, let's go.' " [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Mississippi State held a 5-2 lead on powerhouse Florida in the seventh inning Wednesday, but Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan did not think the game was out of reach. So he had a quick meeting with his hitters before they went to the plate in the bottom of the frame.
"We needed to have better at-bats," O'Sullivan said. "We had some opportunities . . . I thought if we could just put some quality at-bats together, we could make a run."
It helped that Mississippi State's pitchers struggled to throw strikes all day, combining to issue seven walks and hit a batter. A hit batsman and a walk jumpstarted a Florida rally in the fateful seventh, helping set the table for Brian Johnson's go-ahead grand slam down the right-field line. The Gators went on to a 7-5 win.
"The grand slam's not the issue; it was how those two guys got on second and third there," MSU coach John Cohen said. "I thought that was really the ballgame . . . you just can't hand a team like Florida an opportunity like that, and I thought that's what we did." [...] Continue Reading »
Coastal Carolina junior righthander Anthony Meo threw the first no-hitter in Big South tournament history today in a 5-0 win against Radford. Meo retired the first 16 batters he faced until Blake Sipe reached on an error in the sixth. He finished with nine strikeouts and just one walk.
“This was one for the record books for sure," Coastal coach Gary Gilmore said. "Anthony and (coach) Drew (Thomas) had a great plan and Anthony really executed it. He was in total command. To see Anthony pitch like that with as many scouts that were here today and this close to the draft was really awesome. Anthony has tinkered here and there a lot this year, but found a way today to put it all together."
A likely first-round pick in the upcoming draft, Meo has a premium fastball, of course, regularly sitting in the mid-90s and touching the high 90s. But two weeks ago, Gilmore told BA that Meo had really elevated his game in the previous two weeks, showing a much better ability to throw his slider for strikes, and throwing more quality strikes with all his stuff to keep his pitch count in check. He needed just 106 pitches in the no-hitter against the Highlanders.
"This was exciting, and to do it in a tournament makes it more special," Meo said afterward. "I really settled in through the middle innings and got in a great groove. I had good command today and my slider was really sharp. I am glad I was able to help our team out and keep our bullpen fresh.”
DURHAM, N.C.—Clemson roughed up Georgia Tech ace Mark Pope for four runs on nine hits, and then tacked on five more in the ninth to win the first game of the ACC tournament 9-0 on Wednesday afternoon. The victory continues the Tigers' hot streak that has the team back in the mix to host an NCAA regional next weekend.
Clemson has completely turned its season around since getting swept at North Carolina, which dropped the Tigers record to 13-12. Since then, Clemson has gone 26-5.
“I think we’ve been as good as anyone in the country through the last 31 ballgames,” coach Jack Leggett said.
The Tigers are responsible for two of Pope’s four losses this season, also beating him April 29 in Clemson.
Pope said he didn’t have a good feel for his slider today, the second time that’s happened to him in the Durham Bulls Athletic Park this season. The first time it occurred, Pope was able to persevere for a 9-2 complete game-victory against Duke on April 1. But against a more talented Clemson club, his lack of a slider made Pope vulnerable. [...] Continue Reading »
We've got more automatic qualifiers to announce:
• Surely ESPN is already setting up shop in Coral Gables. Florida International's Garrett Wittels extended his amazing hitting streak to 54 games with a fifth-inning single up the middle against Troy in the Sun Belt championship game, and the Golden Panthers slugged their way to a 14-10 win. FIU is almost certain to head to Coral Gables as a No. 3 seed for a regional hosted by Miami, and I would expect a compelling No. 2 seed (Louisiana State?). People are justifiably captivated by the Wittels story; that's made-for-TV. That matters to the committee when it fills out the field.
• Is St. John's coach Ed Blankmeyer the new Kevin Gunderson? Back in February, Blankmeyer pronounced, "We're back," and declared that he had a regionals team on his hands. The Johnnies backed him up today, beating Connecticut 3-0 in the Big East championship game. The game got interesting in the ninth, when UConn loaded the bases with one out against closer Daniel Burawa, but Pierre LePage grounded into a double play to end it. St. John's gets in at the expense of an at-large bubble team. Pittsburgh is almost certainly on the outside looking in, now. [...] Continue Reading »
There were some tense moments, but Garrett Wittels extended his hitting streak to 53 games Saturday in Florida International's 11-9 win against Florida Atlantic in the Sun Belt tournament. Wittels flew out to deep center in his first three at-bats, then kept the streak alive in the eighth by lining a comebacker at FAU pitcher Tyler Everist for an infield single. Wittels dove head-first into first base to put runners on first and second, setting the stage for Jeremy Patton's go-ahead three-run homer. The win sent the Panthers to the Sun Belt championship game tomorrow against the winner of the Troy-Arkansas State game. Wittels will try to extend his streak to 54 games and extend Florida International's season into next week's regionals.
Florida Atlantic's ouster means the Sun Belt is very likely to earn three NCAA tournament bids, as the Owls and Louisiana-Lafayette (already eliminated) are in good shape to earn at-large spots. That's bad news for other bubble dwellers like Liberty, Wichita State and Florida Gulf Coast, all of whom failed to win their respective conference tournaments.
The Flames lost to top-seeded Coastal Carolina 8-2 in Saturday's Big South championship game, just about assuring the Chanticleers of a national seed. Liberty, meanwhile, finishes with an 0-7 record against the top 50 in the Ratings Percentage Index, seemingly dooming its at-large hopes. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—For the first time ever, the No. 7 and 8 seeds will face off in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference tournament. If that sounds like some colossal upset, it isn't.
Seventh-seeded Alabama and eighth-seeded Louisiana State are both extremely talented, experienced teams that wandered through the wilderness for a while in the middle of the season, but both teams are playing at an extremely high level now. The Crimson Tide and the Tigers both earned three straight dominating victories to breeze unbeaten through their respective sides of the SEC tournament bracket and set up Sunday's showdown, which is certain to draw an enormous crowd—perhaps as large as 15,000 fans.
We've written plenty about the reasons behind LSU's resurgence. It all starts on the mound, where the Tigers have gotten three straight strong starts, taking pressure off the lineup.
Alabama has used the exact same formula. Jimmy Nelson and Nathan Kilcrease dominated in the Tide's first two victories in Hoover, and lefthander Adam Morgan followed with another gem in Saturday's 5-2 win against top-seeded Florida. Morgan allowed just two runs on six hits and no walks while striking out five in a seven-inning complete game. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Paul Mainieri just has the magic touch.
Baseball America's reigning coach of the year has an uncanny ability to know exactly what buttons to push to give his team a spark. He recognizes emerging players on his roster before they break out, and he puts them in position to succeed.
Last year, of course, Mainieri shook up his lineup midway through the season, installing freshman Mikie Mahtook as the center fielder, sliding preseason All-American shortstop D.J. LeMahieu to second base and inserting freshman Austin Nola into the lineup at short.
It took Mainieri a little longer to find the right buttons this year (remember that disastrous Matty Ott start against Florida on May 2?). But he found them nonetheless.
It started with the installation of freshman Alex Edward into the starting lineup, first in left field and then at third base in mid-May. As Mainieri put it, Edward won't win any gold gloves, but at least the coach doesn't have to cringe when the ball is hit to the hot corner. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Florida won its elimination game against Vanderbilt Friday night, 5-2, to earn a date with Alabama in the second game Saturday. It was a clinical, methodical victory for the Gators, who made big pitches every time the chips were on the line.
None of the three pitchers Florida rolled out Friday blew Vandy's hitters away with premium velocity. But all three had excellent movement on their fastballs—particularly downard movement. Sinkerballers Hudson Randall, Greg Larson and Paco Rodriguez combined to record a whopping 20 groundball outs, four of them via double plays.
Florida is still trying to work out its infield defense on the corners, and freshman Cody Dent started at third base for the second straight day and committed an error. But the Gators continue to be rock-solid up the middle, as Nolan Fontana and Josh Adams made every routine play and hooked up for a couple of slick twin killings. Fontana, the freshman shortstop with the .988 fielding percentage, showed fringy arm strength on a couple of plays, but he makes up for it with excellent actions, sure hands and by always being in the right position to field the ball. Adams could play shortstop for most teams in college baseball and is a luxury at the keystone sack. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—It wasn't pretty, but it was entertaining.
After two days of pitchers' duels, Mississippi won a back-and-forth slugfest against Auburn on Friday night, 10-7. Senior outfielder Taylor Hashman broke a 7-7 with a three-run homer to center field in the 10th. Hashman has swung the bat well this week, and he has had a knack for coming up with timely hits all season. He now has 23 RBIs with two outs this season, second-most on the team.
Power played a big part in this game, unlike in most of the first eight games of the Southeastern Conference tournament. The Rebels went up 3-1 early, and Auburn's Tony Caldwell tied it with a two-run homer in the third. The Rebels took a three-run lead with three in the seventh, and the Tigers tied it on Hunter Morris' majestic three-run homer to right in the bottom of the frame. That shot, against lefty Matt Crouse (who pitched well), was downright towering.
But it was a sloppy game, and the one-hour, 55-minute rain delay before first pitch might have played a role in that, creating wet conditions and anxious players. Auburn made five errors, leading to four unearned runs, and Ole Miss made two errors of its own. The two teams combined to hit seven batters. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Indisputably, the root cause of Louisiana State's second-half slump was unreliable pitching. The Tigers too often were forced to play from behind because their starters were hit hard early, and they struggled to protect leads late in large part because closer Matty Ott was going through his own rough patch.
But for the second straight day Thursday, the Tigers got encouraging signs that their pitching is on the mend—which seems to be helping the defending national champions rediscover their missing swagger. LSU continued its resurgence with a 7-5 win against Vanderbilt behind eight strong innings from starter Austin Ross, and Ott escaped a jam in the ninth to preserve the victory.
There might not be a coach in college baseball who offers the media more candid, insightful analysis than LSU's Paul Mainieri. I had an extended conversation with Mainieri on the field after the game, so I'll let him break down Thursday's victory and its ramifications for the Tigers.
Ross allowed four runs on four hits and two walks while striking out seven over eight-plus innings, and held Vandy hitless from the third through the eighth. His M.O. all season has been that one bad innings proves his undoing; today his bad inning was the third, when Vandy scored three runs, but he rebounded quickly to dominate thereafter.
Mainieri: "The kid is a dominating pitcher except for that one inning when he seems to give up multiple runs, but you just never know when that inning's going to happen. Usually it happens in the fourth or the fifth, today it was the second. But I really didn't fault him all that much. They hit the ball. It wasn't like he was walking batters. I thought the kid showed a lot, he kept challenging hitters . . . [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Mitch Gaspard said it Wednesday: Alabama is peaking at the right time. For the second straight day, the Crimson Tide played well in all facets of the game and earned a dominating win, this time by a 6-3 score against Mississippi.
Today's hero was 5-foot-6 junior righthander Nathan Kilcrease, who pitched into the ninth inning in just his fourth start of the season after spending most of the year as a bullpen stopper. Kilcrease allowed three runs on nine hits and no walks while striking out three over 8 1/3 innings, before tiring in the ninth and handing off to closer Jake Smith. Smith entered with two runners aboard and one out and Miles Hamblin representing the tying run at the plate. Hamblin, who hit deep homers in each of Alabama's first two games, popped up harmlessly in foul ground, and Smith ended the game by freezing Kevin Mort on a 90 mph fastball over the outside corner.
The most encouraging development for Alabama, though, was Ross Wilson's big day. The preseason All-American has struggled mightily all season and entered the game slugging just .397. Thursday, he went 3-for-3 with a double (remarkably, just his sixth of the year in 196 at-bats) and reached base safely in all five plate appearances. Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard has never lost his faith in Wilson, leaving him in the No. 3 hole despite his struggles with the thinking that the Tide will need him to return to form if they are to make a deep postseason run. Maybe Wilson his finding his stride in the nick of time just like the rest of the Tide.
HOOVER, Ala.—We've got a quick turnaround time before the Alabama-Mississippi winners' bracket game starts, so let's keep this tight and go bullet point-style. Some tid-bits from Florida's 5-3 . . . err, 5-4 win against Arkansas:
• The final score on the scoreboard and in the first official box score distributed was 5-3. After the post-game press conferences were completed, new box scores were handed out with a new final score: 5-4. The reason for the confusion was a wild final play of the game.
With runners on the corners and one out in the ninth, Arkansas' James McCann drove a sinking liner into the right-center-field gap.
"Honestly when the ball left the bat, I didn't think he was going to get to it," Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan said of his right fielder, Jonathan Pigott. "I thought it was going to be gapper and the game was going to be tied at that point."
So did Tim Carver, the runner at first base, and so must have just about every observer at Regions Park. But Pigott closed the distance between himself and the ball impossibly quickly, then laid out parallel to the ground and snared it. He got up and threw to second baseman Josh Adams, who made the relay to first to double off Carver. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Auburn has a reputation as an offensive team, but in Thursday's 3-1 victory against South Carolina, it showed once again that it can win games in all sorts of different ways. Auburn's pitching went to-to-toe against the Southeastern Conference's best pitching staff and won.
Auburn lefty Grant Dayton and South Carolina ace righty Blake Cooper dueled into the eighth inning—both allowed just a solo homer apiece, and both left with the game tied 1-1. The bullpens traded zeroes until the 12th, when Auburn's Trent Mummey hit a bases-loaded two-run single on a 3-and-2 fastball from hard-throwing Gamecocks closer Matt Price.
Dayton was replaced by senior righthander Austin Hubbard, who struck out five over 4 2/3 scoreless innings, the longest relief outing of his career. Hubbard's 80-81 slider is one of the nastiest pitches in the SEC, and he leaned on it heavily, even when the Gamecocks loaded the bases with two out in the 10th.
"I think especially in this park, if you fill the zone up at the bottom of the zone, there's a lot of real estate out there, and I think you can be successful," Hubbard said. "We got ahead of a lot of hitters, Grant got a lot of leadoff guys out, and obviously the defense was a huge part of that too. And (catcher Ryan) Jenkins obviously, I wonder how he's doing now, catching 12 innings and and blocking 8,000 sliders or whatever." [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—With a parade of elite power arms scheduled to take the mound in the first day of the SEC tournament, Regions Park was the place to be for scouting heavyweights Wednesday. I confirmed the presence of at least 12 scouting directors, at least one general manager and several high-level executives, in addition to the dozens of area scouts and crosscheckers on hand.
After a long day that started at 9:30 a.m. and included strong outings by juniors Jimmy Nelson, Drew Pomeranz and Anthony Ranaudo, the scouting contingent was considerably thinner by the time the late game between Vanderbilt and Arkansas started. Those who remained were treated to the most electric stuff of the day, courtesy of Vandy righthander Sonny Gray—just a sophomore, and not draft-eligible.
Gray turned in one of his finest starts of the season in a 2-0 win against the Hogs, striking out eight and walking just one over seven-plus shutout innings, scattering seven hits. His explosive two-seam fastball sat in the 93-95 range for his entire outing, peaking at 96 several times, and his power curveball ranged from 81-86 mph. He also mixed in a handful of changeups around 84.
Commodores pitching coach Derek Johnson said Gray's stuff wasn't actually as explosive as it was against the Razorbacks last Thursday, when he struck out nine and allowed three runs over eight innings in a 4-3 win. But he was better the second time around against Arkansas, which rested banged-up stars Zack Cox and Brett Eibner. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Perhaps a trip to Regions Park was all Anthony Ranaudo and Louisiana State needed to recapture that old magic.
"For a while there, it seemed like old times, with Anthony out there hurling and us swinging the bats real well, and us playing in this ballpark, which we love so much," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
Ranaudo, LSU's beleagured ace, pitched into the eighth inning before running out of gas, helping lead the eighth-seeded Tigers to a 10-6 upset of top-seeded Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
In the first inning, as Ranaudo overpowered the first three Florida hitters with a 92-94 mph fastball and a devastating power curveball at 80-83 that he located to both corners and to the back feet of the three lefties he faced in the frame, it was difficult to imagine how the junior righthander could have possibly carried an 8.49 ERA into the game. Grunts of approval could be heard from some of the scouting horde on hand to get a look at one of the draft's greatest X-factors. Ranaudo seemingly announced in that first inning that Anthony Ranaudo, College World Series hero and top pitching prospect in the nation heading into this spring, was back. [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Remember this morning when Auburn coach John Pawlowski said the 20-second pitch clock here at the SEC tournament was not even a factor? In the second game Wednesday, it might have been more of a factor than anyone realized.
Mississippi lefthander Drew Pomeranz had his best outing in a month, according to Rebels coach Mike Bianco, in a 3-0 win against South Carolina. Pomeranz scattered six hits and a walk while striking out seven over seven shutout innings.
Pomeranz said after the game that he was struggling to find his rhythm over the last month. He sure found it today—with a little help.
"I actually kind of liked the clock being like that. I felt like I needed to speed up my rhythm," Pomeranz said. "I don't know if it kind of forced me to, but it was in the back of my mind. My tempo was a little more upbeat than it had been the last couple weeks, so I actually kind of liked the clock." [...] Continue Reading »
HOOVER, Ala.—Auburn and Alabama cruised through the first game of the Southeastern Conference tournament in a brisk two hours, 12 minutes this morning. Afterward, a reporter asked Tigers coach John Pawlowski if the experimental 20-second pitch count in effect had anything to do with the quick pace.
"I don't think it was even a factor," Pawlowski said.
No, but Jimmy Nelson sure was. Alabama's hulking righthander dominated in his third consecutive complete game, allowing just one run on five hits and no walks while striking out six in a 7-1 win. He needed just 97 pitches, and his efficiency was a big reason for his success, as well as for the fast pace of the game.
"Nelson for the third start in a row was just outstanding," Crimson Tide coach Mitch Gaspard said. "He had all three pitches working today, and really set the tempo early. Ninety-seven pitches in a complete game against a team as offensive as Auburn just doesn't happen very often . . . The way he's done it, he has not gone over 125 pitches to throw three complete games. And today with 97 pitches—that's a guy with really good stuff, with confidence, really executing his pitches." [...] Continue Reading »
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