SEC East baseball notebook: Carolina, Georgia suffer pitching injuries, Tennessee and Kentucky have big weekends, more
Chris Lee • 3/11/2022 in Baseball
A look at each of the SEC East's teams through three weekends.
Michael Braswell photo courtesy of South Carolina athletics.
Pitching-depleted South Carolina swept by Clemson
No SEC team had a more disappointing weekend than the Gamecocks, who lost three games to their in-state rivals by 12 runs total. Making matters worse, starting pitcher James Hicks is now done with the season with an arm injury.
The Gamecocks were supposed to have one of the league’s best staffs, but so far Carolina’s 4.32 ERA is the league’s worst. Julian Bosnic (who was on our preseason second-team All-SEC squad), who was expected to be one of the league’s better starters but hasn’t thrown a pitch yet and the team hasn’t set a return date, creating a staff that's very much in flux.
Carolina’s hitting was the question mark, but there have been some bright spots. The biggest has been freshman Michael Braswell (.477/.589/.659), who’s also pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings and notched two saves. Outfielder Andrew Eyster (.413/.462/.696) leads the team with three home runs and 18 RBIs.
Georgia loses series to rival Georgia Tech, and more
Georgia lost its Friday and Saturday games to Georgia Tech, but salvaged Game Three with a 12-3 Sunday win as Parks Harber and Corey Collins combined for two home runs and seven RBIs.
However, the big news coming out of the weekend was that starting pitcher Dylan Ross appears to be shelved for a while with an arm issue. Ross has thrown just six innings this year for a staff that has a 2.97 ERA, though Tech did touch ace Jonathan Cannon (20.1 2.66) for six runs in six innings this weekend.
Georgia’s still got plenty of talent on the mound, but Ross’s does shift the burden to Georgia’s offense to product more. So far, the offense has been hit-and-miss, but Collins (.333/.487/.767) and Ben Anderson (.382/.523/.706) have stepped up their contributions from a year ago.
Vols take two of three in Houston
The most anticipated storyline involving the East this weekend was Tennessee heading to the Shiner’s Classic, and the Vols mostly didn’t disappoint.
Tennessee opened its weekend with a loss to Texas on Friday, the only blemish on the Vols’ season so far as Tennessee responded with a pair of wins over Big 12 teams Baylor by a 10-5 score, and then an 8-0 shutout of Oklahoma.
Pitching was the question for the Vols after the Blade Tidwell injury, but the Vols have been terrific on the mound, ranking second in the SEC with a 1.69 ERA, while striking out 131 hitters against just 28 walks. Drew Beam started the Oklahoma game, going five shutout innings with six strikeouts.
Offense has been an even bigger story, as Tennessee (10-1) leads the SEC in runs scored (141). Of the Vols’ nine regulars, eight have on-base percentages north of .400. Ten Vols have bashed at least two home runs, led by Trey Lipscomb’s five. Lipscomb’s 23 RBIs rank third in Division .
Tennessee has also been stellar defensively, allowing just two earned runs and fielding .992.
Kentucky takes series from TCU
Kentucky continues to be perhaps the SEC’s most pleasant surprise, as the Wildcats (10-2) beat Baylor, 5-1, in a seven-inning game on Saturday to clinch a series win over the country’s 16th-ranked team. Tyler Bosma pitched six innings of one-run ball in UK’s Saturday win.
The big takeaway through three weeks is that Kentucky’s offense has been excellent. The ‘Cats rank fourth in the league in runs scored, with Chase Estep (.455/.576/.900, 4 HR), Jacob Plastiak (.392/.492/.541, 5 HR) and Eastern Kentucky transfer Daniel Harris IV (.432/.533/.541) all getting off to huge starts.
UK’s fast start is starting to get some attention, as the ‘Cats were fourth in the “others receiving votes” category in the Coaches’ Poll.
Nearly-perfect Holton helps Vanderbilt to series sweep
There’s no Kumar Rocker or Jack Leiter this year, but at the end of the third week, it’s Vanderbilt that leads the league in both ERA (1.66) and strikeouts (148) thanks to a group of arms that aren’t household names yet, but could be soon.
One is certainly freshman Carter Holton was perfect for six innings until things came apart in the seventh inning of a seven-inning game, which the Commodores (9-2) won, 12-1. Holton struck out nine and allowed two hits and a walk and has a 3.71 ERA in a team-leading 17 innings. Chris McElvain (15.2, 1.15) has also been terrific in the Friday role and is tied for the SEC lead with 28 strikeouts.
The question is what Vanderbilt will do with Patrick Reilly and Christian Little, who were expected to be the team’s top starters coming into the season. Reilly (12, 0.75) has looked dominant at times with 20 strikeouts, and made his first start over the weekend in a four-game series. Little (6, 1.50) threw in relief this weekend and hasn’t started yet.
Vanderbilt’s hitting has come around after a slow start, as the Commodores scored 36 runs this weekend in their sweep of Hawaii. Davis Diaz (.500/.579/.607), the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week, is tied for the league lead in batting average and ranks third in on-base percentage, while Javier Vaz (.400/.476/.686) has become a lineup mainstay after cracking Vandy’s starting nine late last year. Dominic Keegan (.415/.520/.659) was one of America’s hottest hitters out of the gate last year, and has done it again.
Florida’s Sproat leads Gators to a big series win
The Gators’ Brandon Sproat had a forgettable second season (21.2, 6.65) followed by a summer with the National Team that had many projecting Sproat as a first-rounder for the 2022 draft. On Sunday, Sproat pitched 8.1 shutout innings while striking out 10 in the Gators’ win over Miami, earning him SEC Pitcher of the Week honors. That win earned Florida a series victory.
So far, Sproat and Hunter Barco (17, 2.65) have probably been the SEC’s best pitching duo. The Gators have a 2.33 staff ERA, and is tied for second in the SEC with 140 strikeouts.
Florida’s offense has also improved from a year ago, with the Gators’ 103 runs ranking fifth in the SEC. Breakout seasons from Colby Halter (.407/.484/.722) and Sterlin Thompson (.396/.450/.717) have combined for nine home runs while Jud Fabian (.283/.459/.609) has cut down on his strikeouts (12 in 46 at-bats) from a year ago.
Missouri sweeps Tarleton State, improves to 9-1
Let’s get this out of the way: Missouri’s schedule has been Nichols, Southern, UL Monroe and Tarleton State, not exactly teams that’ll enter the Top 25 any time soon. But for a team that went 15-36 a year ago, the Tigers’ 9-1 start is a step in a better direction.
The Tigers seem to have more options on the mound this year, Friday starter Spencer Miles (14.1, 1.88) threw five shutout innings over the weekend and Austin Trouser (14, 2.57) followed with five innings of one-run ball on Saturday. Austin Cheeley (6.2, 2.70) is tied for the SEC lead with three saves.
Missouri’s offense, led by Torin Montgomery (.429/.512/.607), Luke Mann (.278/.460/.417) and Josh Day (.395/.521/.737), has also shown improvement over a year ago. The Tigers’ 68 strikeouts ties them with Tennessee for the league’s lowest mark.