Diamond Hogs play waiting game at SEC Tournament

The SEC Baseball Tournament gets underway today at Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala., but the only contest Dave Van Horn’s No. 5 Arkansas Razorbacks are playing today is the waiting game.

The Hogs won the SEC Western Division last weekend with a single victory in their three-game series at Texas A&M. The divisional title gave the Hogs the No. 2 seed in this week’s tournament and a first-round bye.

Though the Hogs (43-12) won the West, the Aggies (44-11) are the No. 1 squad in D1 Baseball’s Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) going into conference tournament play this week, while the Razorbacks are No. 2.

Kentucky (39-12) is No. 3 in the RPI, and Tennessee (46-10) is No. 5. They also have first-round byes in the SEC Tournament like the Aggies and Hogs.

First pitch of the tournament is at 9:30 a.m. this morning when LSU (36-20) faces Georgia (39-14). The Hogs will play in the second quarterfinal game at around 1 p.m. on Wednesday against the winner of today’s game between Alabama (33-21) and South Carolina (33-21), which will begin around 1 p.m.

Florida (28-26) plays Vanderbilt (35-20) at approximately 4:30 p.m. and Ole Miss (27-28) faces Mississippi State (26-19) in a Magnolia State showdown at approximately 8 p.m.

The SEC Network will be televising each game of the SEC Tournament through Saturday’s semifinals. ESPN2 is scheduled to broadcast Sunday’s 2 p.m. championship game.

If the Hogs win on Wednesday afternoon, they will play at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Thursday. If the Razorbacks lose on Wednesday, they will play in an elimination game at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday.

What is at stake for the Hogs this week in Hoover? Frankly, not a lot other than pride.

The Razorbacks’ resume is sterling. When the field for the NCAA Baseball Tournament is announced at 11 a.m. Monday on ESPN2, the Hogs are expected to be one of eight national seeds, and thus the UA be a host for the first two rounds of the tournaments as long as they advance to the Super Regionals.

That means the pressure is basically off the Razorbacks this week. They can just play ball and let the chips fall wherever they may. That could mean an early exit from the tournament or an extended stay.

The Razorback won the SEC Tournament two years ago and lost in the title game to LSU last year. Some feel an extended stay in Hoover the last two years impacted the Hogs’ chance at winning the College World Series title by playing unnecessary games. They feel it would have been better for the Hogs to bow out of the SEC Tournament early and rest.

It’s not a bad theory, but if the Razorbacks win their first game, they will play at least three games in Hoover anyway. Why not just win four and bring home a SEC Tournament title?

Van Horn, obviously, gets the big picture. He’s not going to overtax his pitching staff to win the SEC Tournament, but if the Razorbacks can maintain their regular rotation, why not go for the tournament title?

The Razorbacks have the depth in the bullpen to win the tournament without putting undue stress on their pitchers if they have a bit more luck at the plate than they did last weekend in Aggie Land.

It will be interesting to see how Van Horn deploys his pitchers. Van Horn will likely announce Wednesday’s starter today. He may announce Thursday’s too. Gage Wood could get the call for Wednesday, but he would be working on less than a week’s rest. He had his first start last Friday. Brady Tygart is an option. He sat out last weekend at Texas A&M and should be ready to go. Update: Van Horn said Ben Bybee will start on the mound for the Hogs on Wednesday.

Ace Hagen Smith seems to be the logical choice for Thursday to keep him on schedule, and if he is on the mound, it’s a pretty safe bet the Hogs will advance whether they are in the winner’s or loser’s bracket.

Whatever happens, the SEC Tournament is usually interesting, but it is the appetizer for the main course, which begins next week with Regional play.

Will this be the year Van Horn captures a national title?

Can the Hogs get hot enough at the plate to provide the necessary run support for their excellent pitching and defense to go all the way?

Time will tell, but the answers are coming soon.

2024 SEC Baseball Awards

Player of the Year: Charlie Condon, Georgia
Pitcher of the Year: Hagen Smith, Arkansas
Freshman of the Year: Gavin Grahovac, Texas A&M
Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Drew Beam, Tennessee
Coach of the Year: Nick Mingione, Kentucky

First Team All-SEC

C: Jackson Appel, Texas A&M
1B: Jac Caglianone, Florida
2B: Christian Moore, Tennessee
3B: Charlie Condon, Georgia
SS: Justin Lebron, Alabama*
SS: David Mershon, Mississippi State*
OF: Braden Montgomery, Texas A&M
OF: Jace LaViolette, Texas A&M
OF: Dylan Dreiling, Tennessee
SP: Hagen Smith, Arkansas
SP: Khal Stephen, Mississippi State
RP: Evan Aschenbeck, Texas A&M
DH/UT: Ike Irish, Auburn*
DH/UT: Nick Lopez, Kentucky*

Second Team All-SEC

C: Cole Messina, South Carolina
1B: Blake Burke, Tennessee
2B: Peyton Stovall, Arkansas
3B: Tommy White, LSU
SS: Wehiwa Aloy, Arkansas
OF: Kavares Tears, Tennessee
OF: Ryan Waldschmidt, Kentucky
OF: Dakota Jordan, Mississippi State
SP: Ryan Prager, Texas A&M
SP: Luke Holman, LSU
RP: Griffin Herring, LSU
DH/UT: Andrew Fischer, Ole Miss

Freshman All-SEC Team

Gavin Grahovac, Texas A&M
Gabe Gaeckle, Arkansas
Justin Lebron, Alabama
Dean Curley, Tennessee
Tre Phelps, Georgia
Caden Sorrell, Texas A&M
Zane Adams, Alabama
Steven Milam, LSU
Ashton Larson, LSU
Cade Belyeu, Auburn
Liam Peterson, Florida
Nolan Souza, Arkansas

SEC All-Defensive Team

C: Fernando Gonzalez, Georgia
1B: Blake Burke, Tennessee
2B: Emilien Pitre, Kentucky
3B: Jared Sprague-Lott, Arkansas*
3B: Mitchell Daly, Kentucky*
SS: Justin Lebron, Alabama
OF: Braden Montgomery, Texas A&M
OF: Kavares Tears, Tennessee
OF: Peyton Holt, Arkansas*
OF: Jace LaViolette, Texas A&M
P: Mason Moore, Kentucky