Wednesday's SEC baseball tournament thoughts: Hess, Holton and Sproat dominate, NCAA tournament fates, more
Chris Lee • 5/25/2022 in Baseball
Here are some thoughts and takeaways through three SEC tournament games.
Holton, Little and Vandy shine on the mound
Days after LSU shell-shocked Vanderbilt by scoring 42 runs over a three-game sweep in Nashville, Vanderbilt's Carter Holton--who didn't pitch in that series--helped restore some confidence in the Commodores' arms as Holton started and threw six scoreless innings with six strikeouts in Vandy's 3-1 win over Ole Miss. The Commodores didn't face more than four Rebel hitters in any inning as Holton, Christian Little and Nelson Berkwich just threw strikes (something Vandy didn't do against LSU). Little looked particularly dominant in a two-inning save, striking out four without allowing a run.
A couple of takeaways here: Vandy knows it can count on Holton going into the postseason. While he may be a freshman, he's now thrown 24 consecutive scoreless innings over his last four appearances (all starts). He and Little are as talented as any pitchers in the league; Little seems to be a better fit out of the bullpen but is certainly durable enough to throw five or six innings.
The Commodores need answers elsewhere--Devin Futrell's been rocked in his two SEC starts, and Chris McElvain has been rough over the same span--but Vandy got a start in re-building some confidence on Tuesday.
Sproat dominates South Carolina
Florida's Brandon Sproat would also be on the short list of the SEC's most-talented hurlers, but the consistency hasn't been there. As with Vandy, perhaps pitching in spacious Hoover Metropolitan Stadium on a damp night helped, but whatever the case, Sproat struck out seven in a career-high 8 1/3 innings in the Gators' 2-1, extra-inning win over South Carolina.
While the season-ending injury to ace Hunter Barco is difficult to overcome, the Gators have found something in freshman Brandon Neely (who's been great in SEC play). A one-two-punch of Sproat and Neely pitching the way they're capable would make Florida a tough out in the NCAA tournament.
Hess surprises on Tuesday, keeps Alabama's hopes alive
Rain didn't appear to be a good thing for Alabama when showers delayed the Crimson Tide's game with Georgia for several hours, forcing starter Garrett McMillan from the game after two innings and 40 pitches. That's when freshman Ben Hess came in and dominated, fanning 10 of the 15 hitters he faced over 4 1/3 scoreless innings in a 5-3 win.
So now, Alabama has a bonus: It moves on to the double-elimination portion of the bracket and should have McMillan available for later in the tournament. The Crimson Tide are probably a long-shot for the NCAA tournament with this résumé and a 12-17 league mark, but their RPI of 43 could put them on the fringe of consideration with a couple more wins. Remember, Alabama went 12-17 in the league a year ago before winning a couple of games in Hoover to sneak into the field of 64.
Ole Miss awaits its fate
Ole Miss probably would have slept better with a win over Vandy but that didn't happen, and so now the Rebels will scoreboard-watch between now and Monday with the NCAA announces its field. A 14-16 mark in the country's No. 1 RPI league should put the Rebels in, especially since Ole Miss played without star left fielder Kevin Graham and suffered through some pitching losses during some tough stretches of the season.
What to watch (and hope to avoid seeing) if you're Ole Miss: Conference tournament upsets, Alabama (the Crimson Tide swept the Rebels in Oxford; how much weight would that carry with the committee should the teams get compared head to head?) and the ACC tournament, where teams like Clemson and North Carolina State seem squarely in the same bubble territory as the Rebels.