What we learned in the SEC on opening weekend

 Chris Lee   in Baseball

All 14 teams were in action, and there were some surprises both pleasant and otherwise.

Chase Burns photo courtesy of Tennessee athletics. 

Auburn may have been the league’s biggest winner

The Tigers beat No. 14 Texas Tech and a Kansas State team picked seven of the Big 12’s nine teams, while losing to Oklahoma.  Auburn exited the weekend with a 1.38 ERA and just two extra-base hits allowed and an 0.96 WHIP for the weekend. Starters Joseph Gonzalez and Trace Bright each went five innings without allowing an earned run. 

That’s quite a first-week turnaround for coach Butch Thompson’s club after last year’s 5.24 ERA.

Mississippi State and Vanderbilt missed huge opportunities

The defending national champs and runners-up were the only two SEC teams playing ranked opponents for a full series this weekend. Both played at home and yet each left the weekend at 1-2.

While Oklahoma State could easily challenge for a national title, Vandy’s performance left something to be desired. Vandy’s infield defense was shaky and its No. 5 and 6 hitters, Carter Young and Parker Noland, went a combined 2-for-21 with 13 strikeouts. Starters Carter Holton and Nick Maldonado each allowed four runs in four innings (two of Maldonado’s were unearned and Holton was electric in spots in his first college start). 

State’s performance was more disappointing. MSU lost its first two by a combined 16-3 before everyone woke up in a 12-4 shellacking of Long Beach State. The biggest issue was pitching, as the Bulldogs left the weekend with an SEC-worst 6.33 ERA with four home runs and seven doubles allowed with the low point being a poor start by KC Hunt. 

The Commodores will be more than fine if they pitch like that on the whole (a 3.00 ERA and 45 Ks to 11 BBs), and as for MSU, a .402 batting average on balls in play allowed suggests some tough luck was involved. But these are the kinds of series that mean something when the NCAA awards tournament hosts and seeds.

Tennessee had a complete weekend

While Auburn’s weekend may have been the most significant in terms of who it played, Tennessee’s may have been the best. The Vols outscored Georgia Southern—the Sun Belt’s preseason No. 2 pick—by a 33-3 margin.

Tennessee had a .460 on-base mark, bashed six home runs and walked 21 times to just 11 strikeouts, plus, stole six bases in six tries. And even with two starters out, Tennessee struck out 27 batters and walked six, and got five innings each from starers Chase Dollander (who pitched against his former school) and freshman Chase Burns.  

LSU can really hit

We know—it’s Maine—but one Division One team scoring 51 runs on another (in just 24 innings) is just nuts. Cade Doughty left the weekend with 17 total bases and 12 RBIs as the Tigers mashed seven homers and 21 extra-base hits. Doughty, Brayden Jobert and Jacob Berry each smashed two homers and Dylan Crews had a pair of triples. 

Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M also get sweeps

Those five teams respectively beat Xavier, Albany, Jacksonville State and Charleston Southern. The most meaningful accomplishment of the bunch likely belonged to Kentucky’s since the Wildcats beat Jacksonville State (Baseball America’s preseason pick to win the Atlantic Sun’s West Division) and did it in decisive fashion (a combined 31-11 score). 

Alabama had the closest call, wining a pair of 5-4 games, while Georgia had wins of one and two runs also. 

A&M series was most notable for the debut of former TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle in Ft. Worth. The Aggies lost their opening series to Xavier a year ago.  

It wasn’t the Arkansas we expected

The Razorbacks were supposed to have one of the nation’s most potent offenses, yet managed just 11 runs against an Illinois State team coming off a 23-34 season. The Razorbacks hit just .247 for the weekend, though Arkansas had to be encouraged by Sunday’s pitching depth when Jax Wiggins and Kole Ramage combined for nine innings of two-run ball.  

Gators disappoint in losing series

While Liberty finished second in the Knoxville Regional and is favored to win the Atlantic Sun this year, Florida did not look the part of the #10 ranking they carried into the weekend. 

South Carolina makes miracle comeback to take series 

The Gamecocks struggled to hit last year, but scored 21 runs and hit five homers, including two by Andrew Eyster. Sunday's win was a near-miracle, with Carolina scoring six runs to tie the game and adding another in the 10th for the win. The big blow in the ninth was an Eyster grand slam. 

Missouri packs the bats

The Tigers had issues scoring a year ago, but accounted for 34 runs in three games at Nichols State. Eight Missouri starters had at least three hits, encouraging for a lineup that lacked depth a year ago. A fourth game is scheduled for Monday after Mizzou lost Sunday’s contest by a 9-8 count.