Saturday's takeaways: An unforgettable ending in Knoxville, and Jack Leiter's successful return
Barry Allen and Chris Lee • 5/15/2021 in Baseball
Max Ferguson walks off Arkansas, Jack Leiter dominates Ole Miss and Missouri blasts Mississippi State, all in one day.
Max Ferguson photo courtesy of the University of Tennessee.
It was one of the most interesting days of Southeastern Conference baseball all season, and here's what stood out to us--starting with where Saturday leaves us heading into Sunday.
Final Sunday offers crucial matchups
The final Sunday in the SEC regular season will offer several critical games that will go a long way in determining the SEC Championship, division winners and the final spots in Hoover.
Arkansas and Tennessee will wrap up their series in Knoxville. The winner will have sole possession of first place heading into the final weekend.
The first two games have exceeded expectations. Arkansas overcame a 5-0 first-inning deficit to win the opener 6-5. Tennessee grabbed an early lead again on Saturday, only to see the Razorbacks rally to take a 7-5 lead into the ninth. Without the services of Kevin Kopps (he threw 66 pitches on Friday), the Razorbacks bullpen could not hold the lead as Max Ferguson blasted a walk-off three-run home run.
If the first two games are any indication, then Sunday’s finale could be epic.
Alabama and LSU split the first two games in Baton Rouge. One has to think that Sunday’s winner will have upper hand for an NCAA Regional berth.
Alabama is expected to start Connor Prielipp on the mound. He has missed 10 of the last 11 weeks with a “medical condition”.
Texas A&M and Auburn also split the first two games in Auburn. The winner of Sunday’s game will have the upper Gabe for the last SEC Tournament berth. The Aggies are currently 12th in the standings, with Auburn and Missouri on their heels.
Georgia and Kentucky both need Sunday wins to keep their NCAA hopes alive.
Vols' walk-off highlights Arkansas' pitching issues
Heading into the ninth, Arkansas was on the verge of going 2-0 in its series with Tennessee, until in the blink of an eye, Arkansas reliever Jaxon Wiggins gave up a bloop single, a walk and then a blast to Ferguson that everyone knew was leaving the yard the minute he hit it.
And if you're Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, you have to be wondering two things tonight.
First, was it a mistake to pull Ryan Costieu heading into the ninth? Costieu had allowed a run in an inning and a third of work--that came on a home run--but struck out the other four hitters he'd faced.
Second, how will the Razorbacks handle Sunday? Pitching after Kopps and Patrick Wicklander has been an issue, and it'll be interesting to see if Van Horn brings him back on Sunday.
As for the Vols, this one had to go down as one of the more epic regular-season wins in program history. UT led 3-0 after 5, gave up five answered, and then got runs in the seventh and eighth to set up the ninth (while also giving up single runs in the eighth and ninth).
A packed house at Lindsey Nelson Stadium certainly got its money worth in a year that's done so much to energize the Vol fan base this season.
Leiter dominates Ole Miss
Commodore nation held its collective breath all week wondering whether Jack Leiter would throw at all, and throw well if he did. Leiter struggled with his control early but fanned 13 Rebels over six innings in Vandy's 13-2 rout of Ole Miss in Oxford.
Leiter had a tough time locating his breaking ball early, but was it was extremely effective in the third and fourth innings. When command of that pitch started to wane in the fifth, Leiter started leaning on a fastball that sat 94-96 most of the day.
Leiter's effective return completely changes the completion of Vanderbilt's team, and might make the 'Dores the team to beat nationally from here on.
Kerry hurls gem, boosts Carolina's rotation
On the topic of changing the completion of rotations, South Carolina inserted super reliever Brett Kerry into its rotation and got tremendous results on Saturday in Kerry's first start of the season.
Kerry tossed a complete-game shutout inning the 9-0 win over the Wildcats to clinch the weekend series. He limited UK to four hits with no walks and 10 strikeouts.
He threw 94 pitches in the gem, including 67 strikes. He recorded 21 first pitch strikes and had six one-pitch outs in the masterpiece.
Kerry improves to 4-1 on the season. He also has four saves. Kerry has 85 strikeouts and only nine walks in 54 innings. He averages 14.17 strikeouts per nine innings.
Kerry’s performance solidifies the Gamecocks rotation. He joins Brannon Jordan (13 GS, 5-4, 3.66 ERA), Thomas Farr (12 GS, 2-5, 3.73 ERA) and Will Sanders (13 G, 10 GS, 6-3, 3.97) which gives the Gamecocks a solid four-man rotation heading into the post season.
The Gamecocks have won the first two games of an SEC series for only the second time this season. South Carolina swept Florida in March 26-28.
Missouri wrecks Mississippi State's weekend
Missouri picked up its first SEC road series win of the season with a 16-8 series-clinching win at Mississippi State, likely ending MSU's chances of winning an overall SEC title. The Bulldogs will be two games behind the Arkansas-Tennessee winner on Sunday in the overall SEC race. Arkansas swept MSU in Starkville. UT and MSU did not play.
This one's hard to explain. The Tigers entered the weekend with the worst road record in the SEC. Mizzou was 2-10 on the road in 12 league games.
The Tigers doubled their win total in Starkville and if not for a seventh-inning meltdown in Thursday’s opener, the Tigers could have swept the series.
Missouri belted four home runs on Saturday and the 16 runs scored are the most ever by the Tigers in an SEC game.
The Tigers 27 runs scored are the most in an SEC series since they joined the SEC in 2013.
Florida makes a charge
Don't look now, but the Gators--who've been nowhere near the SEC title chase a month ago--ended the night a game back in the win column of the league's overall lead. The Gators have now won five straight league series.
That makes Sunday's game with a banged-up Georgia pitching staff huge; the Gators head to Arkansas next weekend to wrap up their regular season.
Menefee shuts down Auburn, puts A&M into the lead for final spot in Hoover
Auburn belted six home runs in four-plus innings and led Texas A&M 9-7 in the fifth inning, putting the Aggies in 12th place in the league to end the day.
A&M head coach Rob Childress turned to left-hander Joseph Menefee and he shut down the Tigers offense. Menefee worked 4 2/3 scoreless and limited the Tigers to three hits. He also struck out five and walked one.
His pitching prowess allowed the Aggies to tie the game in the sixth and take the lead with a three-run eighth.
Menefee (4-2) retired 12 of the last 13 Tigers batters he faced, including nine straight to end the game.