College baseball’s toughest conference enters the final weekend of non-conference play before entering into the grueling SEC schedule, and this year has shown it is arguably the strongest the conference has been in recent memory.
Breaking Records in the Rankings
Following a monster weekend, the SEC finds itself with a record-breaking 11 teams ranked in the top 25 per D1Baseball. The conference had three new teams enter the rankings after some strong performances over the weekend. No. 25 Tennessee cruised through the Cox Diamond Invitational, No. 24 South Carolina took two out of three from in-state rival and then ranked No. 23 Clemson Tigers, and No. 20 Texas A&M dominated the Shriner’s College Classic going 3-0 against three of the Longhorn State’s tougher teams. No. 13 LSU dropped 11 spots from the second spot after being swept by No. 12 Texas, which leaves the SEC with five of the top 10 teams including No.1 Vanderbilt.
Rocky Top Rolling
The biggest surprise in the conference this year is Tennessee. In just his second year Tony Vitello already has the Volunteers on the path to their first postseason appearance since 2005. The numbers put up by his club are hard to believe and a good sign of things to come entering conference play. At 13-0 their run differential is an astounding +79. They’ve allowed just 14 runs in 13 games, 12 earned for a team ERA of 0.94. The weekend rotation has dominated as well as weekday starter Sean Hunley, but it’s the bullpen that’s opening eyes with just one run allowed over 37.2 innings.
The powerful bat of third baseman Andre Lipcius has been slow to get started this season but on the opposite side of the diamond, his twin Luc has been a pleasant surprise with a .350/.460/.750 slash and a team-leading three home runs. Friday night ace Garrett Stallings has not disappointed this year posting a 3-0 record and 0.83 ERA over a team-high 21.2 innings. The Vols welcome Fresno State (6-3) this weekend as well as two more in the midweek against UNC Asheville (4-7) as they hope to enter conference play at a clean 18-0.
SEC Teams Dominate in Tournaments
Three teams played in tournaments last weekend. Tennessee went to Pensacola, FL for the Cox Diamond Invitational and won easily in three games against UL Monroe, North Florida and Western Kentucky. The Mississippi State Bulldogs headed to Frisco, TX for the Frisco Classic and won two close games against Sam Houston State and Texas Tech with the Sunday morning matchup against Nebraska eventually canceled due to frigid temperatures.
But the story of the weekend was Texas A&M in Houston going 3-0 in the Shriner’s College Classic. The Aggies won three close ones against perennial powerhouses No. 18 Baylor, No. 17 TCU as well as Houston. Transfer second baseman Bryce Blaum provided the fireworks with two much-needed home runs in close games against Baylor and Houston. Texas A&M finishes up the non-conference schedule this weekend at home against the Gonzaga Bulldogs (4-6).
“From Our Haus to Yours”