Florida and LSU are on quite a roll heading into this week's Southeastern Conference baseball tournament.
The Gators are the tournament's top seed in Hoover, Alabama, after finishing with a 21-9 league record. They've won 14 of their past 16 games, including 11 of 12 against SEC teams. Florida's strength is its starting pitching: Alex Faedo, Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar have a combined 24-5 record on the mound.
That doesn't mean it has been easy for the Gators this season. They struggled with their hitting at times and were swept by Auburn in the opening weekend of conference play before winning 21 of 27 against league opponents.
LSU earned the No. 2 seed after an impressive three-game road sweep over Mississippi State in the last weekend of the regular season. The Tigers have won 12 of their past 14 games, including eight straight in the SEC. Alex Lange has 111 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings pitched this season while Greg Deichmann's 17 homers rank second in the SEC.
The Gators and Tigers could be on a title game collision course, though the rest of the teams in the field will have something to say about that.
Here are some other things to watch in Hoover this week:
TOURNAMENT FORMAT: For the fifth straight season, the SEC Tournament will feature 12 teams. The top four seeds receive an opening round bye while the 5-12 seeds play a single-elimination round on Tuesday. The remaining eight teams begin double-elimination play on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The tournament then reverts back to single-elimination for the semifinals on Saturday and the championship game on Sunday.
KENTUCKY JOINS THE ELITE: The league's most surprising team might be the Wildcats, who are the No. 3 seed in the tournament after finishing 19-11 in the league. Kentucky's .323 batting average is easily tops in the conference and nearly the entire starting lineup is hitting at least .300. Riley Mahan (.341 batting average, 22 doubles, 14 homers) and Evan White (.385 batting average, 22 doubles, eight homers) have been particularly impressive. The Wildcats also have an ace in pitcher in Sean Hjelle, who had a 7-1 record with a 1.90 ERA against SEC competition.
NCAA BUBBLE: The single-elimination knockout round is especially important for teams like Auburn and Ole Miss, who are trying to boost their resumes in hopes of making the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers and Rebels play each other Tuesday. Auburn might be in better NCAA shape thanks to a 16-14 league record, but its No. 43 RPI ranking isn't particularly impressive. Ole Miss is No. 32 in the RPI, but finished with just a 14-16 league record. Auburn just took two of three from Ole Miss in the final series of the regular season.
ROOKER'S AMAZING YEAR: Mississippi State's Brent Rooker is having one of the most dominant offensive seasons in SEC history. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior first baseman leads the league in batting average (.415), doubles (28), homers (20), stolen bases (18), hits (85) and RBIs (73). He's a major reason Mississippi State had a better than expected season and will be the No. 5 seed in this week's tournament after finishing 17-13 in the league.
LEAGUE HONORS: Rooker was named the SEC player of the year by the league on Monday while Hjelle was named the league's top pitcher. Texas A&M's Braden Shewmake was the league's top freshman and Kentucky's Nick Mingione was the league's top coach.
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Posted on Tue, May 23, 2017
by By DAVID BRANDT, AP Sports Writer