Friday's SEC baseball takeaways: Gators, LSU help themselves

 Barry Allen and Chris Lee   in Baseball

Florida pulls a win out of the fire, while LSU goes to 2-0 at Auburn and puts the NCAA tournament back on the table

Jud Fabian photo courtesy of the University of Florida.

Here are thoughts on what happened in Friday's Southeastern Conference baseball.

Florida got a much-needed win in Lexington

We've talked all week about what would happen to Florida's hosting chances if it were to lose a series at Kentucky. That may seem harsh for a team that entered the weekend at 13-8 in SEC play, but, Florida also entered the weekend with a 5-8 road record and an RPI hovering around 30 and a series loss wasn't going to help remedy either.

And remember, the NCAA is going to name its 20 possible hosts Wednesday, and so there's still some work for Florida to do later, the Gators' day of reckoning was a little too close when one strike separated Florida and an 0-2 start to its series with the Wildcats on Friday. 

Instead, Florida got a game-tying, pinch-hit single from Cory Acton and then a three-run home run from Kendrick Calilao. Closer Jack Leftwich finished things off in the ninth for his third save.

The Gators (32-14, 14-9) sit two games behind Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the loss column for the SEC East lead and their No. 22 RPI probably puts them on the right side of the discussion--at least for today. 

One key to Florida's recent surge has been the play of center fielder Jud Fabian, who had three hits and two more home runs on Friday, giving hm 18 this season. 

LSU's setting itself up for an interesting finish

The Tigers may also end up being a tough team for the NCAA selection committee to size up. No, LSU won't be hosting--a 9-14 league mark ends that discussion--but after being nearly dead and buried weeks ago, the Tigers' series win at Ole Miss pumped some life back into Baton Rouge two weeks ago.

Two games into a series at Auburn, LSU has done what LSU had to do and that's win both games on the road. The Tigers' league record is a problem, as is an 8-15 mark against RPI top 50 teams, but if LSU can just go 5-2 down the regular-season stretch, it's hard to see it not getting an NCAA bid given an RPI that sits at 19 on Saturday morning, an 8-5 road mark a No. 2 overall strength of schedule (and No. 28 in the non-conference portion).

Wicklander, Kopps shine again

The question with Arkansas is whether the Razorbacks have enough pitching, but two guys who've answered the bell all year are Kevin Kopps and Patrick Wicklander, whom we've ranked each among the SEC's top 14 pitchers again this week. The pair did it again on Friday night, with Wicklander going 5 2/3 innings and Kopps finishing the final three for his seventh save. 

It's true that everyone would feel better about Arkansas if it could develop a consistent second or third starter, but right now, those two and the Hawgs' hitting have been enough. A lot of other teams share that lament and in spite of it, the Razorbacks are clearly the county's best team one week into May.

Vanderbilt's starting pitching falters, again

Vandy's Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter were hands-down the country's top pitching duo three weeks ago. And while it would be hard to swap that pair for anyone, both have struggled at times in the last month.

On Friday, it was Rocker's turn. The Commodore All-American posted this line: five innings, six runs (all earned), six hits (with there doubles, but no home runs), five walks and three wild pitches... but also 13 strikeouts. 

That's right, Commodore fielders registered just three outs with Rocker on the mound. If the math on that doesn't sound right, that's because Rocker had a four-strikeout first inning with Alabama's William Hamiter reaching on a K-WP after swinging through a bouncing slider.

The final line was shocking given the way Rocker started. His first 16 pitches were all strikes and he struck out the first seven hitters he faced. The at-bats were so uncompetitive that the Crimson Tide could barely so much as foul off a pitch.

But Alabama started the third with three straight hits and then the first three reached in the fourth, with the Crimson Tide getting three in each inning. 

Vandy needs a good outing out of Leiter--who's given up eight home runs his last three starts--on Saturday, especially with potential No. 3 starter Ethan Smith again not on the team's 30-man roster this weekend.

Tanner Allen making Player of the Year case

We've known that Mississippi State could pitch, but the question was whether MSU had enough bats to carry its season into SEC contention. On Friday night, the Bulldogs put on an impressive offensive display in pounding South Carolina for 12 hits in a 9-0 win.

The key to MSU's offense (again) was Tanner Allen, whose three-hit night included a double, two runs and two RBIs. Allen has put himself in position for SEC Player of the Year consideration, especially if the Bulldogs can somehow manage a share of the league's title. 

Kamren James and Rowdey Jordan also combined for three hits. 

TEAM OF THE DAY

LSU scored six runs over the final three innings for a 9-6 series-clinching win at Auburn. The Tigers scored three runs in the seventh inning to take a 6-5 lead. LSU third baseman Cade Doughty and centerfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo both had RBI singles in the inning. After Auburn tied the game in the bottom of the inning, LSU regained the lead when second baseman Drew Bianco scored the go-ahead run on a passed ball in the eighth inning. LSU shortstop Jordan Thompson added a two-run homer in the ninth inning. 

Auburn used six relief pitchers in the game after starter Tanner Bright could not get out of the second inning.

GAME OF THE DAY

Florida scored four runs in the ninth inning to edge Kentucky 8-5 in a back-and-forth game in Lexington. Calilao’s blast came off UK reliever Austin Strickland, who allowed all four runs in the ninth inning to take the loss. 

The game saw three lead changes and two ties. UK held a 2-0 lead after two innings before UF came back to take 3-2 lead. UK got two more runs in the fifth to take a 4-3 lead. 

Florida tied the game on Calilao’s RBI single in the eighth only to see Kentucky retake the lead in the bottom of the inning on an RBI ground out. Calilao went 2-for-4 with one home run and four RBIs to lead the Gators.

PLAYER OF THE DAY

Texas A&M first baseman Will Frizzell belted two home runs, including a walk-off home run the bottom of the ninth to lead the Aggies to a 9-8 series-opening win over Ole Miss. Frizzell slammed the first pitch he saw from Ole Miss reliever Jack Dougherty over the right-center field fence to lead off the ninth inning. 

Frizzell belted a two-run home run as part of a five-run fifth inning that saw the Aggies take an 8-5 lead. He finished 2-for-4 with three runs scored, two home runs, three RBIs and one walk.

PITCHER OF THE DAY

Mississippi State left-hander Christian MacLeod held South Carolina to one hit in seven scoreless innings in the Bulldogs 9-0 win in Columbia. MacLeod retired the first seven batters he faced before he allowed a single to third baseman Brennan Milone in the third inning. 

He retired the final 11 batters he faced. He struck out six and walked two batters. MacLeod combined with Preston Johnson and KC Hunt on the three-hit shutout. It was MSU’s sixth shutout of the season.