Friday takeaways: Arkansas wins SEC championship

 Barry Allen and Chris Lee   in Baseball

Arkansas Wins SEC Championship

Arkansas captured its third SEC Championship with a 4-3 walk-off win over Florida in front of a jam-packed Baum-Walker Stadium on Friday night.

Arkansas (41-10, 21-8) won its first outright SEC Championship since 1999.  The Razorbacks shared the SEC title with Georgia in 2004.

The start of the game was delayed almost two hours by rain and once the game finally began, Florida jumped on the board with three runs to grab a 3-0 lead in the second inning.

Arkansas battled back with two runs in the bottom of the second inning on a solo home run by Christian Franklin and sac fly by Jalen Battles to make it a 3-2 game.

Florida hurlers Hunter Barco and Jack Leftwich held the Razorbacks in check until the eighth inning when Robert Moore hammed a slider off the second deck of the new Arkansas baseball facility in right field to tie the game at 3-3.

Kevin Kopps came on in the ninth and struck all three Gators he faced to send the Hogs to the bottom of the ninth with a chance to win.

Casey Opitz stroked a leadoff double to centerfield and took third on an error by Jud Fabian.

Florida shook things up on defense and brought Jacob Young in from left field as the fifth infielder. The Gators had only two outfielders, Fabian in left-center field and Sterlin Thompson in right-center field.

After a foul out, pinch-hitter Charlie Welch delivered a walk-off single over the head of Thompson in right field to give the Hogs the dramatic 4-3 win.

SEC Tournament Field Set

LSU and Auburn clinched the final two spots in the SEC Tournament on Friday night.

LSU punched their ticket with a 12-6 win in 13 innings at Texas A&M. The Tigers trailed 6-2 in the second inning but tied the game with four runs in the top of the fifth inning. The game remained tied 6-6 until LSU broke through with six runs in the 13th inning. Third baseman Cade Doughty led the Tigers with five RBIs. He had three-run homer in the sixth and two-run double in the 13th inning.

Auburn sealed the spot in Hoover with a 3-0 win at Missouri, coupled with the Aggies loss LSU. AU starter Richard Fitts tossed eight scoreless innings for his first win of the season. He limited the Tigers to one hit and struck out seven. He retired the first 14 batters before Joshua Day broke up the perfect game with two outs in the fifth inning. Shortstop Ryan Bliss belted a two-run home run for Auburn.

Texas A&M and Missouri will not play in the 2021 SEC Tournament.

SEC Tournament Seedings

Only two teams have locked up seeding at the SEC Tournament.

Arkansas will be the No. 1 seed and will play Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. (CT).

Auburn will be the No. 12 seed and will play in the final game of the day on Tuesday.

The other 10 teams are still jockeying for SEC Tournament seeding heading into the final day.

Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Miss. State can all lock up Top 4 seeds and opening day byes with a win on Saturday. The Commodores will win the SEC Eastern Division and be the No. 2 seed with a win over Kentucky.

Troy LaNeve, Vanderbilt's unexpected slugger

Entering May 7, Vandy's second-year player had a total of 10 at-bats and zero career starts. But injuries all over the roster created a domino effect, and LaNeve found himself in the lineup against Alabama, He mashed two hits that night and earned another start the next day, at which point he crushed a home run. 

Nine games later, LaNeve hasn't come out of the lineup. Vandy's left fielder homered for the second-straight game and is now 5-for-7 with a walk and four RBIs against Kentucky. LaNeve, a Pittsburgh native, is hitting .432/.475/.946 in 37 at-bats this season.

Rebels Rally in Athens

Ole Miss scored three runs in the top of the 11th inning to beat Georgia 8-5 in Athens. The three-run outburst was the only time the Rebels led in the series-clinching win.

TJ McCants, Jacob Gonzalez and Kevin Graham all had RBI singles in the decisive 11th inning.

In fact, the trio played a huge role in the comeback win, going 7-for-16 with two home runs and seven RBIs.

Gonzalez put the Rebels on the board with a solo home run in the fourth inning. Graham smacked a three-run homer in the eighth inning to pull the Rebels to within 5-4. Tim Elko then hit a game-tying home run in the eighth to even the score at 5-5.

Georgia lost its third straight game and falls to 3-10 in its last 13 games. The Bulldogs led 3-0 and 5-1, but again could not hold the lead.

Bednar Blanks Bama

MSU right-hander Will Bednar handcuffed Alabama through eight scoreless innings as the Bulldogs cruise to a 7-0 series-clinching win on Friday in Tuscaloosa.

Bednar (6-1) limited the Crimson Tide to three hit and fanned 11 batters in the win.

It was his best performance of the season and second combined SEC shutout. Bednar opened SEC play with five scoreless innings in the win at LSU on March 20. Bednar logged 12 scoreless innings and 19 strikeouts in his first four appearances of the season.

After the SEC opener at LSU, Bednar gave up five runs in the loss to Arkansas and six runs in the loss to Ole Miss. He entered the Alabama game with a 3.92 ERA in SEC play.

Brandon Smith worked a three-up, three-down ninth inning with two strikeouts to complete the shutout.

It was MSU’s SEC-leading seventh shutout of the season.

Kentucky finds a starter in Dillon Marsh

Kentucky went to lefty Dillon Marsh for his first start of the season, and the Wildcat lefty responded with five-plus innings of two-run, no-walk, five-strikeout baseball. All runs charged to Marsh came after he left the game.

Marsh's fastball topped out at 90, but a low-80s breaking ball kept the Commodores off balance until he departed after 73 pitches. The Wildcat bullpen imploded from there, but perhaps the Wildcats found a usable starting pitcher heading to Hoover.