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SEC baseball news and notes

 Barry Allen   in Baseball


Read the latest SEC baseball news and notes … Three SEC pitchers were named Golden Spikes Award finalists … LSU and Tennessee will play at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic in Houston.

Three SEC Pitchers Named Golden Spikes Award Finalists

Arkansas right-hander Kevin Kopps and Vanderbilt right-handers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter are the three finalists for the 43rd annual Golden Spikes Award.

The SEC has all three finalists for the second time in the awards history. In 2015, Andrew Benintendi (Arkansas), Alex Bregman (LSU), Carson Fulmer (Vanderbilt) and Dansby Swanson, Vanderbilt) were the finalists. In addition, all three finalists are pitchers for the second time ever. In 2011, Trevor Bauer (UCLA), Danny Hultzen (Virginia), and Taylor Jungmann (Texas) were the three finalists.

 “USA Baseball is thrilled to name Kevin Kopps, Jack Leiter, and Kumar Rocker the finalists for the 2021 Golden Spikes Award,” said Paul Seiler, USA Baseball Executive Director and CEO. “These three athletes have not only put together incredible seasons for their respective schools on the field, but have also proven to be truly worthy honorees of this recognition off the field as well. We look forward to celebrating this well-deserved accolade with each of them and welcoming them into a tremendous fraternity of Golden Spikes Award winners.”

Arkansas right-handed pitcher Kevin Kopps was named the 2021 SEC Pitcher of the Year after leading the nation with a stellar 0.75 ERA during the regular season. In 60.1 regular season innings of relief, Kopps collected a 10-0 record and 97 punchouts to go with his miniscule ERA, while opponents hit just .162 against him. A consensus All-America honoree, the righty also finished the 2021 campaign with Arkansas’ single-season ERA record. Kopps is just the third Razorback to be named a Golden Spikes Award finalist and the first since Andrew Benintendi took home the award in 2015. Arkansas’ Phil Stidham also earned finalist honors in 1991.

In his first full season of collegiate baseball, Jack Leiter put together a lights-out campaign for Vanderbilt in 2021. In 76.1 innings of work during the regular season, he recorded a 2.12 ERA and an 8-2 record, while walking just 34 batters. Leiter currently leads the SEC and the nation in strikeouts and tallied 127 of his current-171 in the regular season, including striking out 10 or more batters in seven of his 13 starts during the season. The right-hander tossed Vanderbilt’s first regular-season, complete game no-hitter since 1971 in his SEC debut, collecting 16 punchouts in the win. He then followed that effort with two more starts in which he did not allow a hit to record 20.1 consecutive no-hit innings in his first three conference starts. Leiter was named SEC Newcomer of the Year in 2021 after his strong showing in conference play, earned All-SEC First Team honors, and also earned All-America honors this season after helping to lead Vanderbilt to the NCAA Division I College World Series.

Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker earned First Team All-SEC and All-America honors for his dominant performance throughout the 2021 season. In 88.0 regular-season innings on the mound, Rocker tallied an 11-2 record and a 2.45 ERA, while walking just 27 batters and striking out 129. The Athens, Georgia, native won the first seven decisions of the season to set the tone for his 2021 campaign, and went on to once again help guide Vanderbilt to the program’s second-consecutive College World Series appearance. The right-hander allowed just 22 extra-base hits during the 2021 regular season.

Leiter and Rocker are the seventh and eighth Commodores, respectively, to be named Golden Spikes Award finalists and the third Vanderbilt duo to earn the honor in the same year (Pedro Alvarez and David Price, 2007; Carson Fulmer and Dansby Swanson, 2015).

Previous SEC winners include: Andrew Benintendi; Arkansas (2015); A.J. Reed; Kentucky (2014); Mike Zunino; Florida (2012); David Price; Vanderbilt  (2007); Kip Bouknight; South Carolina (2000); Will Clark; Mississippi State (1985) and Dave Magadan; Alabama (1983).

 LSU and Tennessee will play at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic

The 2022 Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic announced its tournament field, which includes LSU and Tennessee from the SEC.

The Tigers and Volunteers, who matched up in the 2021 NCAA Super Regionals in Knoxville, will join Baylor, OklahomaTexas and UCLA in the three-day, six-team, nine-game tournament at Minute Maid Park from March 4-6, 2022. A full tournament schedule for the 22nd annual event will be announced at a later date.

Of the six participating programs, two advanced to the 2021 College World Series, Tennessee and Texas, who played each other on Tuesday, an 8-4 Texas victory. LSU advanced to the Super Regionals, dropping the series to Tennessee. UCLA played in the Lubbock regional, which was won by Texas Tech, a 2021 College Classic participant.

LSU returns next year for their fourth appearance in tournament history (2015, 2017, 2020, 2022). Their 2022 appearance will be their first at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic without Head Coach Paul Mainieri, who retired following the 2021 season. LSU went 38-25 this season and advanced all the way to the NCAA Super Regionals, losing that series to Tennessee.

Tennessee is making their fourth appearance at Minute Maid Park in their program’s history (also, 2005, 2008, 2012). They’ll be coming off a 50-18 season and an appearance in the College World Series, a run that ended on Tuesday with a loss to Texas. Ranked No. 3 at the end of the regular season, Tennessee finished their campaign with an SEC Eastern Division title and the fifth trip to the College World Series in program history.