By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. -- And then there were four.
The last time we chatted here at the "Numbers Game", 10 teams from the Southeastern Conference were left as postseason play began. That number has been cut in half, almost, has just four remain as we head to Super Regional play.
In the past two weeks, a lot has happened. We crowned an SEC Tournament Champion (Mississippi State), and also saw eight of the league's squads chosen to compete in the college baseball's version of the "Big Dance". From there, it got even more interesting. In the past weekend, we saw late comebacks, bullpen implosions and even a 21-inning game
The "clay" has finally settled, and in the end just four are left with Omaha dreams. What do the numbers say? Let's find out.
1. The Road To Omaha
The Number: 4
My dad used to always ask me, "You want the good news...or the bad news?" I pose the same question here, since we have a little of both as we look at the four remaining teams in the tournament.
I'll start where I usually did when my dad presented me with this choice, the bad news (I always wanted worst first, just to prepare).
The road to Omaha isn't going to be easy. As you can expect, every team left in the field is talented. I mean, you wouldn't get to this point in the season unless you were good, and that is certainly the case for the matchups this weekend. Every team facing an SEC squad has at least 42 wins on the year, and all are either ranked in the latest top 25 or receiving votes.
Baylor, who hosts Arkansas this weekend, is 48-15 on the season, and was ranked second on May 28th. The Bears sported the Big 12's best record, going 20-4 in conference action. They hit .312 as a team in 2012, the 10th best mark in the country. BU was also lethal at home, posting a 33-4 mark in their friendly confines of Baylor Ballpark. A tough foe indeed.
While Baylor has the strongest resume, the other teams on the docket aren't slouches by any means. North Carolina State, who is Florida's opponent, was ranked 16th nationally a week ago and finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Two-time defending champion South Carolina draws Oklahoma, who features one of the nation's top arms in Dillon Overton. Overton is seventh in the country in strikeouts, having punched 120 batters this year.
Even the "Cinderella" story, Stony Brook, isn't much of a fairy tale. A four seed last week, the SeaWolves ran through a field that included Miami and UCF to capture their first ever regional title. Stony Brook has 50 (!) wins this year, and is one of the top offenses in college baseball. SBU is ranked in the top 10 in eight different categories, including batting average (.336) and triples (35). LSU welcomes them to Alex Box Stadium this weekend.
Like I said, it won't be easy. To quote Casey Affleck in Ocean's 11..."You said something about good news?"
The SEC isn't playing each other. This is a big deal, and gives the conference more chances for teams to advance. While you could argue that having two SEC teams square off would guarantee a win and place in Omaha, in this scenario they ALL can win.
That's something to root for.
2. Draft Time
The Number: 4
On Monday night, Major League Baseball held the first round of its annual amateur draft. Despite the weirdness involved with professional teams choosing players that are still, you know, playing
at the collegiate level, it gives us a chance to see the SEC's top players chosen.
I must admit the MLB Draft is one of my favorite events, ever since its obscure days as a conference call aired on the internet. No, I'm serious. If you are watching the glitz and glamour of the current spectacle, you see the bright lights in prime time on the MLB Network. Back when I was playing in college (1998-2002), the draft was hidden, a never covered blip that was nowhere on the radar of sports news. It was almost as if it didn't exist.
In those days, you were lucky if you could find the audio feed of the selections. The event was conducted in the same manner the SEC hosts its teleconferences for coaches groups, as everyone gets together to announce who they've picked. It was really quite bizarre. That obscurity no longer exists, as the future stars of the National Pastime are now celebrated live and in living color. It is a welcomed change.
SEC baseball is widely viewed as the nation's best, and the conference's draft numbers tend to agree. Since 1991, the conference has had at least one player chosen in the first round of every draft. There were six league athletes with that distinction in 2011, moving the total of SEC first round picks to 89 in that time.
The 2012 numbers were also impressive, including a 3-4 punch that was the highlight of the early going. Florida's Mike Zunino, the 2011 SEC Player of the Year, was chosen third overall by the Seattle Mariners. Zunino blasted the conference's most homers (16), and became the highest draft choice in Florida history.
It wasn't long before the SEC's name was called again, as LSU ace Kevin Gausman was picked fourth by the Baltimore Orioles. Gausman, who has a fastball that has been clocked as high as 100 miles per hour (that's fast), is the 16th player in school history to go in the first round.
SEC Pitcher of the Year Chris Stratton, who amazingly started the year in the Mississippi State bullpen, went 20th to the San Francisco Giants. The night and round ended with the league as well, as two-way Florida star Brian Johnson found himself property of the Boston Red Sox (31st pick).
The MLB Draft's first round wasn't just about the current conference stars, but also about those who could have called the SEC home in the future. Several SEC commits had their name called in Studio 42, including a few in the top 15. Players that were headed to Auburn, Florida, Georgia and other league programs will now possibly test their skills at the professional level. This is another indication of the conference's strength, as both its roster today and its pipeline tomorrow were featured on amateur baseball's biggest stage.
3. Hoover, Hoover, Hoover
The Number: 129,112
Our own Sean Cartell said it best...it was a record-breaking week in Hoover
. With a new format and two more teams at Regions Park, the end result was an attendance number never before seen in SEC history.
The 129,112 fans that came to this year's SEC Baseball Tournament are nearly 3,000 more than any other conference event held in Hoover. 12,526 came to watch Sunday's Championship Game, as Mississippi State captured its seventh tournament championship over Vanderbilt. It was amazing to witness.
The entire week was one of firsts, including a triple steal (Vanderbilt) and dominant pitching. We also saw a team play six games in six days (Mississippi State) and another make a run after being written off earlier in the year (Vanderbilt again).
It is hard to call this year's SEC Tournament anything but a success. The numbers tell us that.