LSU, Vanderbilt Stay Hot, Advance To SEC Tournament Semifinal


Image credit: Michael Braswell III (Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)

The week began with a jumbled mess in the SEC standings. Five teams – Alabama, Florida, LSU, South Carolina and Vanderbilt – finished the regular season tied at 13-17. The conference had to break the tie to seed its tournament, but there was no clear way to separate the group and all five teams felt urgency to win at the SEC Tournament to shore up their NCAA Tournament cases.

After three days of play at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., however, two clear winners have emerged: LSU and Vanderbilt. The Tigers and Commodores on Thursday night won their winner’s bracket games to advance to Saturday’s semifinals. In doing so, they removed any lingering doubt about their NCAA Tournament cases.

LSU scored four runs in the final two innings to come back and defeat South Carolina, 11-10. Vanderbilt beat Mississippi State, 4-3, holding off a furious ninth-inning comeback bid from the Bulldogs.

In their own ways, both the Tigers and Commodores showed their grit Thursday. LSU got down 5-1 in the third inning and 10-7 after six innings. Both times it was able to come back, battling through talented South Carolina pitchers. Shortstop Michael Braswell, who last summer transferred from South Carolina to LSU, delivered the go-ahead hit in the ninth, but it was a team effort offensively.

“A lot of things didn’t go well,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said. “I think it’s great training ground for where we’re headed in the NCAA Tournament. We talked about when we were down 5-1 that in the postseason you get behind if you press, if you panic, the season gets away from you in a hurry, and these guys have not done that the entire season. That was the best example of it tonight.”

Vanderbilt never trailed in the nightcap, thanks to an excellent start from sophomore lefthander JD Thompson, who held Mississippi State to one run on five hits and a walk in six innings. But the Bulldogs won each of their first two games of the SEC Tournament in the ninth inning, on Tuesday walking off Mississippi and on Wednesday scoring the go-ahead runs in the top of the ninth against Texas A&M.

Mississippi State made a run at a third-straight ninth-inning comeback, stringing together three straight two-out hits to push two runs across and bring the go-ahead run to the plate. But Ryan Ginther was able to escape the jam and finish off the save.

Vanderbilt came into the SEC Tournament with a 3-10 record in May. It’s now won four straight games, however, beating Kentucky on the final day of the regular season and then Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi State in Hoover.

Coach Tim Corbin said it was good for the Commodores to string together some positive performances ahead of the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s good for the boys to play well, play aggressively, see some good outcomes,” he said. “I’m happy for them. They get on the field against three very, very good teams and play good baseball.”

LSU and Vanderbilt were both ranked in the top 10 of the Preseason Top 25. The season hasn’t gone smoothly for either team, but they’ve shown lately that the preseason potential is still very much alive. Their subpar conference records mean they’re both going to play on the road in the NCAA Tournament, but they’ve reminded everyone this week just what they’re capable of. Any team that draws the Tigers or Commodores in a regional will be facing a serious challenge.

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