March Madness is in full swing, but for those of preferring a ballpark over a basketball court, CSS has you covered. Three major SEC matchups are on display this weekend, with three ranked teams in the mix. Let’s run down the schedule.
No. 17 Arkansas at No. 6 South Carolina
March 22, 7:30 p.m.
A juggernaut matchup kicks off the baseball coverage this weekend. Arkansas will be well rested after having the week off. The Razorbacks are now 14-7 after a 1-2 series against the Ole Miss Rebels last weekend. Their 6-4 loss in 13 innings on Sunday isn’t exactly how they wanted to leave off heading into a four-day break.
South Carolina was riding a 10-game win streak before Missouri ruined its run in the second game of a double-header on March 16. The Gamecocks bounced back with a 9-5 win over Citadel on Tuesday, as pitcher Jack Wynkoop improved to 4-0 with 5.1 innings pitched and five strikeouts.
If you enjoy a good pitchers’ duel, you might be in luck Friday. Arkansas sends junior Barrett Astin to the mound with 1.90 ERA in seven appearances. His 1-1 record is a bit misleading. Astin has only allowed five earned runs in 23.2 innings. Getting run support appears to be his primary concern.
For the Gamecocks, sophomore Evan Beal gets the start sporting a 2-0 record with an impressive 0.56 ERA. He’s only pitched 16 innings in four appearances, but Beal is holding opponents to a .203 batting average. Don’t expect batters to cross home plate often here.
Alabama at Georgia
March 23, 4:00 p.m.
Alabama heads to Foley Field riding a three-game win streak after defeating Jacksonville State 6-5 Wednesday night. The bats are starting to come alive for the Crimson Tide. They routed Tennessee 15-1 and followed up that dominating performance with a 15-7 win over Samford earlier in the week. Is the Tide hitting their stride as we approach the midseason point?
Meanwhile, times are tough on the diamond in Athens. After dropping Tuesday’s game against Furman 7-5, Georgia’s losing streak hit five straight games, putting it at 8-13 on the season. Getting swept by the Aggies in College Station the series prior may have taken its toll.
Patrick Boling takes the mound Saturday afternoon with a 1-2 record and a 3.68 ERA. We’ve seen the junior settle down into his No. 2 rotation spot lately. He gave up just one run and six hits in 6.2 innings against the Aggies, posting a career-high 10 strikeouts. Although he was still on the hook for the loss, Boling is finding his groove right now.
Boling will have to choose his pitches wisely against center fielder Georgie Salem. After winning SEC Freshman of the Week honors, Salem looks like he’s settling in nicely as the leadoff man for the Tide. Through 91 at bats he’s batting .297 with 15 RBI and six steals.
Florida at No. 2 Vanderbilt
March 23, 7:00 p.m.
Florida’s basketball team may be the favorite in Friday’s matchup against Northwestern State, but its baseball crew will be facing an uphill battle against one of the best teams in the nation the following night. The Gators improved to 10-12 with a 9-4 victory over North Florida on Tuesday, but it’s been a roller coaster season through 22 games.
Vanderbilt actually has two losses in its last six games, which may be considered a rough patch given the dominating run it’s been on in 2013. At 19-3 overall, the Commodores are receiving first-place votes each week and looking like a championship contender close to the halfway mark of the season.
Junior Jonathan Crawford takes the mound Saturday for Florida. Look at his stat line from his last outing against Vanderbilt: five innings, six strikeouts and no runs allowed. Think he’s feeling confident about facing the Commodores again?
Crawford will face one of the most dangerous hitters in college baseball in Vanderbilt’s Tony Kemp. The junior was named a 2013 Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American, and it’s easy to see why after looking at his numbers. Currently batting .420 with 18 RBI and 10 steals, Kemp possesses special talent that opposing pitchers hate to face off against.