SEC baseball: How teams stack up as league play begins

nwhite@thestate.comMarch 12, 2014 

South Carolina's Grayson Greiner (21) is congratulated after scoring a run during the Gamecocks' game against Furman Tuesday night. South Carolina won the game by a score of 5-0.

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com

The SEC baseball season begins Friday night, and once again, the competition for the championship will be heated in what’s, arguably, college baseball’s best and deepest conference.

Here’s a glance at the 14 teams as they enter conference play, with the teams listed in order of where the SEC coaches predicted in the preseason that they would finish.

In its 22 previous seasons as a league member, South Carolina has won the SEC East six times in addition to three regular-season conference championships and one tournament title.

EASTERN DIVISION

SOUTH CAROLINA

Record: 16-0

Baseball America ranking: No. 1

Key players: C Grayson Greiner, P Jordan Montgomery

Note: As the nation’s only unbeaten team, the Gamecocks look like they’re on a mission to get back to Omaha for the fourth time in five seasons.

VANDERBILT

Record: 16-2

Ranking: No. 7

Key players: P Tyler Beede, 3B Xavier Turner

Note: With a strong pitching staff led by Beede, who’ll likely be one of the top five players selected in the MLB draft, the Commodores are national title contenders.

FLORIDA

Record: 10-6

Key players: 2B Casey Turgeon, P Logan Shore

Note: After the Gators posted a 29-30 season in 2013, when they still reached the NCAA tournament, they are hoping to find more consistency in a tough division.

KENTUCKY

Record: 13-4

Ranking: No. 20

Key players: P/1B A.J. Reed, OF Austin Cousino

Note: After starting the 2013 season with a 22-6 mark, the Wildcats collapsed to finish 30-25 and miss the NCAA tournament. Don’t expect that to happen again.

TENNESSEE

Record: 15-1

Ranking: No. 22

Key players: SS A.J. Simcox, P Andy Cox

Note: The nation’s biggest surprise, the Volunteers are resurgent under third-year coach Dave Serrano, who’s starting to do what he did at UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton.

GEORGIA

Record: 11-6

Key players: OF Hunter Cole, P Robert Tyler

Note: Under new coach Scott Stricklin, who took Kent State to the 2012 CWS, the Bulldogs have won nine consecutive games.

MISSOURI

Record: 8-7

Key players: 1B Kendall Keeton, P Keaton Steele

Note: The Tigers surprised everyone with their big season in SEC football, but they’re not likely to pull off that kind of shocker in baseball.

WESTERN DIVISION

LSU

Record: 15-2

Ranking: No. 8

Key players: P Aaron Nola, SS Alex Bregman

Note: Last year, the Tigers returned to the CWS for the first time in four seasons, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they went back-to-back.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Record: 13-7

Ranking: No. 24

Key players: 1B Wes Rea, P Ross Mitchell

Note: A remarkable 2013 postseason run ended in the CWS championship finals when the Bulldogs came up short against UCLA. They return plenty of firepower.

TEXAS A&M

Record: 12-5

Key players: P Daniel Mengden, 1B Cole Lankford

Note: The Aggies are nine wins from an all-time total of 2,500. They would be the 12th NCAA Division I team to reach that figure, and the first in the SEC.

ALABAMA

Record: 10-5

Key players: 1B Austen Smith, P Spencer Turnbull

Note: With six consecutive wins, the Tide is rolling entering conference play in a bid to reach the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in Mitch Gaspard’s five seasons.

ARKANSAS

Record: 8-5

Key players: 2B Brian Anderson, P Jalen Beeks

Note: The Razorbacks, who have lost five of their past six games, picked a bad time to hit a skid with a road trip to Florida to start SEC play.

MISSISSIPPI

Record: 15-2

Ranking: No. 21

Key players: P Chris Ellis, C Will Allen

Note: Ellis, a big right-hander who hasn’t allowed an earned run in 27 2/3 innings this season, figures to give the Gamecocks all they can handle on Friday.

AUBURN

Record: 10-6

Key players: 3B Damek Tomscha, P Keegan Thompson

Note: Despite early upheaval with players leaving the program, new coach Sunny Golloway, who came from Oklahoma, has led the Tigers to six wins in the past seven games.

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