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SEC vying for strong representation in Omaha

Nine Southeastern Conference programs made it into the 2021 NCAA baseball tournament. Of those nine, six managed to take care of business in their regional and advance to the super regionals. With nearly 40 percent of the field hailing from SEC country, the conference is looking to represent itself mightily in Omaha.

I mentioned that there were three teams that failed to advance past their regionals. They were Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina, with the latter two hosting the games at their home sites. The remaining six are Arkansas, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and LSU.

The Matchups:

Arkansas vs. NC State

Held in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks will take on the NC State Wolfpack, surviving the Ruston region. The Wolfpack managed to run through their regional, accumulating a 3-0 record after beating Alabama in their first game, then proceeding to beat Louisiana Tech twice. At 33-17 overall, NC State isn’t quite as compelling a team as some other clubs in the supers, and Arkansas should have a fairly straightforward time with the club from Raleigh.

As for the Razorbacks, they were able to knockoff NJIT and Nebraska in successive games, but fell to the Cornhuskers in their second meeting. In the region’s game seven, Nebraska took Arkansas to the brink, with the latter club pulling out a 6-2 victory thanks to a four run eighth inning. I’m sure Tennessee fans wanted to see Arkansas fall, but it wasn’t in the cards.

Ole Miss vs. Arizona

It took Arizona only three games to make it through their regional, held in Tucson, beating Grand Canyon and then UC Santa Barbara a pair of times. The Wildcats only lost 15 games this season and carried an impressive 29-7 home record. They should give the Rebels all they can bargain for.

It took Ole Miss four games to advance, beating Southeast Missouri State and Florida State before playing a pair of games against in-state competition, Southern Mississippi. Losers of game one, Ole Miss rebounded in game two, taking a 12-9 victory and shipped out for Tucson, where the Wildcats await them in the desert.

Vanderbilt vs. East Carolina

The Greenville regional wasn’t particularly daunting and East Carolina made quick work of the competition. The Pirates took out Norfolk State, Charlotte, and then Maryland to secure a trip to Nashville for a date with Vanderbilt. With a 44-15 overall record and 29-4 home mark, it isn’t surprising ECU advanced with relative ease. The trouble for them begins in Nashville: On the road this season, the Pirates are 12-9, while Vanderbilt carries an excellent 30-6 mark at home.

The SEC favorite coming into the season, Vanderbilt had its ups-and-downs over the course of their schedule, ultimately settling in as the third place team in the conference. No matter, the Commodores didn’t have a ton of trouble in their regional, outpacing Presbyterian easily, 10-0. Then Vandy saw a tumultuous tilt against Georgia Tech, which yielded a 4-3 victory for the Vandy boys. They went on to beat the Yellow Jackets a second time in a high-scoring game played Sunday, 14-11.

Mississippi State vs. Notre Dame

Perhaps with the most impressive run through regionals, Notre Dame annihilated its competition at every turn. Out of the gates, the Irish started strong, beating Central Michigan 10-0. In game two, UConn never stood a chance, becoming the victim of an absolute onslaught at 26-3. To clinch a supers berth, Notre Dame hardly let up in their third game, besting the Chippewas a second time, 14-2.

Mississippi State’s regional saw them take wins against Samford, VCU (16-4), and Campbell to wrap things up in a close 6-5 game. The Bulldogs will undoubtedly benefit by playing their super regional series in Starkville, after going 28-8 at their home park.

Tennessee vs. LSU

This may well be the most compelling match coming up this weekend revolving around SEC programs. Obviously, it’s only possible that five teams out of the conference could advance to Omaha, and these two clubs will have to battle to see which of them advances.

This series will be held in Knoxville, which is the same scenario as when these two teams met back in March. In the eyes of many, that was the series that really stapled the Vols as true competitors in the conference, sweeping the Tigers out of Lindsey-Nelson Stadium. The games were all close, however, with scores of 3-1, 9-8, and 3-2.

LSU is playing competitive baseball right now. In their Eugene regional, they are the only SEC club to advance to the supers from a regional held outside of their home venue. After losing their first game to Gonzaga, the Tigers had their backs against the wall all weekend. Game two saw them eek out a close 6-5 win against Central Connecticut State before enacting revenge on Gonzaga. Then, by beating Oregon in consecutive games, 4-1 and 9-8, the Tigers were able to advance.

To readers of this site, Tennessee’s path to the supers isn’t new information. After trailing 8-5 in game one against Wright State, Drew Gilbert walked it off with a grand slam. In game two, a strong home run presence netted the Vols a 9-3 win before besting Liberty a second time to advance, 3-1, thanks to relief pitcher Sean Hunley.

Having gotten the best of LSU earlier in the season, mixed with the Tigers’ tumultuous regionals ride, as well as their long travel schedule, you have to like Tennessee’s odds to advance. Furthermore, the Volunteers benefit from playing these games at home, which will surely yield an excited crowd. I expect this series to last three games, with close and compelling matchups reigning supreme through the weekend. Tennessee’s opportunity to head to Omaha sits in front of them. Can they take it?