HOOVER, Ala. — The first day at the SEC Baseball Tournament lasted just under 16 hours, but to the top-seeded teams, it must have seen like an eternity because each of them lost. That’s right: (1) Alabama, (2) Florida, (3) Mississippi and (4) Alabama all were defeated (by No. 8 Vanderbilt, No. 7 Arkansas, No.6 Georgia and No. 5 South Carolina, respectively) and each of them faces an elimination game Thursday.
No. 6-aeed Georgia 6, No. 3-seed Mississippi 3
The Bulldogs knocked out Ole Miss ace Drew Pomeranz after 5.1 innings, allowing four runs on five hits. All four runs came on one swing of the bat, as Georgia center fielder Matt Cerione hit a tower grand slam over the 405-foot sign in center field to give the Bulldogs a 4-1 lead.
“The first at bat, I just didn’t pick it up out of (Pomeranz’s) hand, but he is a great pitcher and we were only down one run with the bases loaded, and I was just trying to get that guy in from third,” Cerione said. “That is all I was trying to do. He got the best of me today, too, but I got one good swing off of him as well.”
Pomeranz thought they found a hole in Cerione’s swing, but it didn’t work for the grand slam.
“He had been struggling with hitting the curve ball all game until that point,” Pomeranz said. “So when I threw him that curve ball, he just put a good swing on it. There was nothing else you could do about it.”
David Phillips hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth to get a run back for Ole Miss, closing the score to 4-2.
Peter Verdin doubled in Zach Cone in the seventh, followed by a sacrifice fly by Cerione to stretch the Georgia lead to 6-2.
Kyle Henson, who was the SEC Player of the Week last week, singled in the bottom of the seventh to score Logan Power. Ole Miss closed the gap to 6-3, but Georgia closer Dean Weaver threw the last 1.2 innings to keep the score there.
Georgia starter Justin Grimm picked up the win, moving to 3-4 on the season. The sophomore right-hander allowed two runs, one earned on eight hits in 5.1 innings.
“Justin Grimm got off to a good start,” Georgia head coach David Perno said. “He has been a little snake-bitten throughout the season with us not scoring enough. It has been unfortunate because he has thrown the ball really well the last month and continued the momentum today.”
The Rebels’ 1-4 hitters combined to go 2-15 with five strikeouts.
Ole Miss will take on Florida Thursday morning at 11 a.m. ET. Georgia advances to take on Arkansas Thursday at 6 p.m. ET.
No. 8-seed Vanderbilt 4, No. 1-seed Louisiana State 1
Vanderbilt left-hander Mike Minor was the story of the game from start to finish. The junior threw a complete game, allowing only one run on six hits. The Commodores defense helped Minor with three double plays.
“Early in the game, I wasn’t really pitching, I was just throwing,” Minor said. “I got lucky with my defense there backing me up, turning double plays. Later in the ballgame, I started feeling my stuff and started throwing more off-speed.” Minor ended the game with 128 pitches. The Vanderbilt bullpen was busy during the entire last third of the game, but Minor never got into serious trouble.
Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin thought about replacing Minor after the seventh inning, but Minor talked his way into staying in the game.
“We have 12 guys, but Minor made the comment in the 7th inning because we were figuring out whether or not we were going to send him back out there, but he told (pitching) coach (Derek) Johnson that this is what we train for,” Corbin said. “And he is right. These pitchers train hard and they train for situations like this. He is just a tough, tough kid, and he has proved time and time again why he is one of the top pitchers in the college game.”
The complete game was Minor’s second in his last three starts. The junior struck out five batters, which moved him into fourth place in the school’s career strikeout leaders.
LSU catcher Micah Gibbs, who extended his hitting streak to nine with a single in the second inning, said Minor’s usage of multiple pitches surprised LSU the most.
“He mixes his pitches really well,” Gibbs said. “I know his change-up is one of his better pitches. He pitched his fastball when he was behind in the count. He also pitched his cutter really effectively to both righties and lefties. It looks like it’s going to be a four-seam fastball and then it just comes in on you.”
Austin Ross, who is LSU’s third starter, got the start for the Tigers. He went six innings, giving up four runs on eight hits.
But even if one of LSU’s aces, Louis Coleman or Anthony Ranaudo, would have had difficulty matching Minor pitch-for-pitch.
Vanderbilt advances to play South Carolina at 9:30 p.m. ET in the winner’s bracket Thursday. LSU will face Alabama at 2:30 p.m. ET in the losers’ bracket.
No. 5-seed South Carolina 9, No. 4-seed Alabama 5, 11 innings
The Gamecocks scored on a wild pitch and bases-loaded walk during the 11th to take the lead, but the knockout punch came from Justin Dalles on a double off the left-field wall to score two more in the game that eventually ended just short of 3 p.m. ET.
Alabama started the scoring with three runs in the first inning, keyed by a two-run double by Brandon May. Jake Smith followed with a sacrifice fly to give Alabama the lead after the first inning.
South Carolina answered back with two runs in the fifth inning on a single by DeAngelo Mack.
The Gamecocks put three runs on the board in the top of the sixth on a three-run home run by Adam Matthews, his second of the season. The blast chased Alabama starter Del Howell after 5.1 innings, allowing five runs on seven hits.
South Carolina starting pitcher Blake Cooper went 6.2 innings, allowing five runs on seven hits. He also struck out seven batters.
Cooper was pulled from the game after allowing a solo home run to Alabama’s Kent Matthes. The blast was Matthes’ 28th of the season and flew out of the entire stadium to straight away center field. The first fence is listed at 405 feet with a second fence ten feet behind it and about 15 feet higher. Both were cleared with ease to tie the game at five after seven innings.
Alabama has a losers’ bracket date with Louisiana State at 2:30 p.m. ET, while South Carolina takes on Vanderbilt at 9:30 p.m. in winners’ bracket game.