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2021 SEC baseball tournament thoughts and takeaways: Florida vs. Mississippi State

 Chris Lee   in Baseball

HOOVER, Ala.--Here's what we saw in Wednesday morning's Southeastern Conference tournament game between Florida and Mississippi State, which the Gators won, 13-1, in seven innings. 

Photo courtesy of the University of Florida. 


- The biggest storyline was Florida freshman lefty Hunter Barco, who continued to get better during SEC play and looked great against a patient, veteran MSU lineup. Barco was durable on a hot Hoover morning, throwing 91 pitches, 62 for strikes. 

It's a big victory for the Gators, plus, their pitching is in terrific shape heading to a Thursday afternoon game with the winner of Tennessee-Alabama, which comes after this one.

- For Mississippi State, not much good came of this. The Bulldogs didn't field or pitch well and that's not how coach Chris Lemonis's teams generally play. Some teams come to Hoover to play and win and maybe that's the case for MSU, but it didn't look like it today almost from the start.

T7: Florida 13, Mississippi State 1

The Gators add another and lead by 12; Mississippi State has to score at least three to keep this alive. State will send its 4-5-6 hitters to the plate, starting with Kamren James, to face Hunter Barco, who's allowed just three hits. 

Everyone's ready to get this one over, including the poor PA announcer, who mistakenly thought the sixth inning was over and started his between-innings announcement prematurely.

T7: Florida 12, Mississippi State 1

Florida's taken an 11-run lead here in the seventh and still hitting. MSU is the home team so we still have some baseball to play either way.

B6: Florida 9, Mississippi State 1

To update the Eric Cerantola note, the big righty gets a strikeout to end the inning while stranding two runners. So perhaps he can build some confidence from that.

T6: Florida 9, Mississippi State 1

In a game like this, the only two things to watch are whether a game will end on a run rule (in this format, it's a 10-run lead after at least 6 1/2 innings) or whether there's an interesting storyline with a particular player.

In this case, both are in play after MSU runs right-hander Eric Cerantola out to start the inning. Cerantola was in the Bulldog rotation to start the year; he's a really talented player who has trouble throwing strikes and because of that, hasn't thrown more than an inning and a third since March. Certantola has an excuse: He was a hockey star in Canada who only started playing baseball a few years ago. 

You can see what scouts like (a fastball that's hit 97 today) and also the issues that are keeping him from pitching, which in this case is simply his control. Cerantola isn't locating either his fastball or his change-up consistently for strikes and in a couple of cases, is missing by a few feet. 

If Cerantola can get it together, he's potentially a piece the Bulldogs can use somewhere down the line in the NCAA tournament, but today, it looks more like a guy to be used in situations like this one. 

E3: Florida 9, Mississippi State 1

Hunter Barco gets a 1-2-3 third, and the Florida lefty has thrown just 28 pitches.

Seldom-used Cade Smith will pitch the fourth for Mississippi State.

B3: Florida 9, Mississippi State 1

The Gators just sent 10 men to the plate and plated five in the top of the inning. 

To correct something I said earlier, the Gators are playing Nathan Hickey at third and not DH. I don't remember Hickey being an option there before and with that, Kirby McMullen--Florida's regular starter there--is on the bench today. 

T3: Florida 9, Mississippi State 1

This is turning into a nightmare for Mississippi State. 

With two on and two out, the Bulldogs were about to get out of the inning as left fielder Kellum Clark tracked a ball Kris Armstrong hit onto the warning track. Maybe the wall made him nervous, and as Clark lurched back to it on the run to make the catch, the ball deflected off his glove for a two-run double.

Now, third baseman Tanner Leggett can't make a play on a slow roller to third from Kendrick Calilao and the inning continues. 

T3: Florida 7, Mississippi State 1

Sterling Thompson has just homered to center while Josh Rivera follows with a sharp single to left. There's a right-handers throwing in the MSU bullpen, but for now, State coach Chris Lemonis is going to lefty Cam Tullar.

Tullar is no better, giving up a single to Cory Acton, a sacrifice bunt and now, a two-RBI single to Jacob Young.

E2: Florida 4, Mississippi State 1

Florida lefty Hunter Barco has thrown only 17 pitches through two complete. The Gators had to play a Tuesday game, so Barco's ability to go deep into a game has a lot of value in this tournament. 

T2: Florida 4, Mississippi State 1

For the second straight day, Florida is starting Mac Guscette behind home plate instead of Nathan Hickey, the Gators' regular catcher, who's in the DH hole for the second straight day. That's significant, because Hickey has had fits throwing runners out this year. 

It's significant early on, too, as Guscette rolls a single through the middle that moves Josh Rivera to third, and now, Rivera scores on Jacob Young's sacrifice fly to center that scores the go-ahead run, and now, Hickey rolls one through second as Guscette takes third with two outs. 

Another thing of significance: center fielder Jud Fabian, who was having fits with strikeouts earlier in the year, continues to learn what pitches to hack at and which ones to lay off. Fabian takes a walk to load the bases, keeping the inning alive for Kris Armstrong to single to right and extend the lead to three.

State finally gets out of it, but Florida has rapped out six hits early and run Smith's pitch count to 51. Meanwhile, Hunter Barco threw just nine for the Gators in the first.

B1: Florida 1, Mississippi State 1

Tanner Allen--our SEC Player of the Year--sparks a State rally in the second, ripping a double to the gap in right center and later scoring on Luke Hancock's single to right. We're tied after a full inning.

T1: Florida 1, Mississippi State 0

Mississippi State starter Brandon Smith got a rude awakening when Florida leadoff man Jacob Young jumped on a 2-0  pitch and smacked it to left center for a hustle double, and then Nathan Hickey followed with a first-pitch single. A walk to Jud Fabian loaded the bases with nobody out.

But the Gators managed just one run and that came on Smith's wild pitch. The big at-bat was a strikeout of Kendrick Calilao that made for the inning's second out.

There are far more people in the stands for this one than for the Kentucky-Florida game at the same time yesterday, given the presence of a Mississippi State fan base that travels well. 

Florida's Hunter Barco--who has been the Gators' best starter--is about to tackle the MSU order for the first time.