By John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – One of the most singular accomplishments in college sports last season, to my mind, was South Carolina’s surprising championship at the College World Series.
The Gamecocks won in Omaha after failing to win the SEC’s regular-season title and after going two-and out – including a loss to Ole Miss – at the SEC tournament.
LSU won the league tournament in Hoover, Ala., but got tossed out of the UCLA regional after a pair of losses. Florida won the SEC’s regular season in 2010 but then made a quick exit in Omaha.
South Carolina got the last laugh.
It all served to underscore just how formidable the SEC is in college baseball. And how, perhaps, you’ll never be sure of the answer to this question – “Which is the best baseball team in the SEC?” – until the final out is recorded in Omaha.
The league which has provided the NCAA with its last two champions – LSU won in 2009 – gets a bright spotlight tonight as Vanderbilt (53-10) plays Florida (51-17) in a winner’s bracket game at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
Defending champion South Carolina (51-14) plays again on Tuesday after beating Texas A&M on Sunday night, giving the SEC a 3-0 tourney record. The Gamecocks now face the overall top seed in the tournament, Virginia (55-10).
It’s possible, although I’m a little skeptical, that two SEC teams could play for the NCAA championship next week. The only other time that has happened was in 1997, when LSU beat Alabama.
But a third consecutive national championship for the SEC isn’t so far-fetched.
My wife and her family are big Vanderbilt fans, and the Commodores do make for an interesting story. It’s their first trip to Omaha and they have the pitching (2.38 ERA, ranking third in the NCAA) and overall talent (14 major-league draft picks) to win it all.
It may be time for Vandy’s lone national championship trophy – in women’s bowling – to get some company in the VU intramurals office. (Joke.)
But Florida will come into tonight’s game with a lot of confidence. They’ve beaten Vandy three of the four times the teams have played, with the Gators winning the regular-season series in Nashville and winning the SEC tourney by slamming the ‘Dores 5-0.
And a week ago, Florida engineered a Houdini-like escape to beat Mississippi State in Game 3 of its super regional just to get to Omaha.
And then there’s South Carolina. The Gamecocks have won six in a row since falling out of the SEC tournament, outscoring their foes 39-15. And they have the confidence borne of having hoisted the national championship trophy.
For college baseball fans, for SEC fans – for sports fans of any kind – the next few days at Omaha will be must-see TV.
Contact John L. Pitts at 678-1522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.