Florida baseball’s win over Alabama keeps NCAA Tournament No. 1 overall seed hopes alive

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HOOVER, Ala. — Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan walked off the field at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium and perfectly summarized what’s at stake at an SEC baseball tournament.

“Everyone’s got something at stake here,” O’Sullivan said. “You’re this national seed (in the NCAA baseball tournament), that national seed. There’s things we can gain by being here.”

Sullivan’s team, the No. 1 seed in Hoover, won a 7-6 thriller over No. 9 seed Alabama in the bottom of the 11th inning after a four-run explosion. Alabama took a 6-3 lead in the top of the inning, but three straight singles followed by a BT Riopelle home run sealed the win for the Gators.

Florida is the nation’s second-ranked team according to D1Baseball and could overtake Wake Forest as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament with an SEC championship. The Crimson Tide, who were on a seven-game winning streak, entered Thursday with stakes of their own.

The top 16 seeds host regional rounds, and as of Monday, Alabama was the projected No. 14 seed. A win over Florida would’ve gone a long way toward securing a chance to host. The highly competitive game may have done enough to convince the NCAA committee anyway, but Wednesday was a stinging loss in the tournament’s second round.

“Basically what I told them was, ‘Hey, man, this hurts, and it’s supposed to hurt,” Alabama interim coach Jason Jackson said. “You invest that much into a game, and it was an emotional game, and it was a very well-played game, but this was supposed to hurt. That’s a kick in the gut. So it’s OK to be pissed. You should be pissed.

“But we are going to go back to the hotel, and we’re going to eat, and we’re going to be pissed off for a little while, and that’s OK. But when we wake up tomorrow, that score resets to 0-0, and we’ve got to bring it to the ballpark. We have to be ready to go. We have to be ready to bring it when we get here tomorrow.”

What’s next for each team?: Florida’s quest continues, and it will await the winner of the Auburn–Vanderbilt late Wednesday, still in progress. The Gators’ next game will take place at 8 p.m. CT on Thursday.

Alabama falls to the losers’ bracket and will await the loser of Auburn and Vanderbilt.

Here are some takeaways from Day 2’s action and what they mean for each team:

A looming question for LSU entering the tournament was Paul Skenes’ usage, how much would the Tigers use the SEC Pitcher of the Year? Coach Jay Johnson opted for Thatcher Hurd, who delivered 5 1/3 innings solid innings against South Carolina; then the LSU bats provided more than enough support in a 10-3 win.

Johnson began the SEC tournament with a lineup change, keeping top-ranked prospect Dylan Crews in the leadoff spot, but Josh Pearson batted second. Tommy White moved from second to third in the order, and Tre’ Morgan batted cleanup. The result: seven combined hits and six RBIs between the top four hitters. Crews extended his streak of consecutive games reaching base to 60 games, dating to last season.

What’s next for each team?: LSU, a projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, will play again at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday against Arkansas, which defeated Texas A&M 6-5 in 11 innings Wednesday.

South Carolina, a projected No. 2 seed, will play Texas A&M at 9:30 a.m. CT on Thursday.

Arkansas pulls one out

Arkansas, which could also make a case for the No. 1 overall seed with an SEC tournament championship, delivered an impressive opening performance in Hoover with a comeback win. The Razorbacks trailed 4-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning before a Jared Wegner grand slam turned the game on its head, giving Arkansas a 5-4 lead.

Arkansas’ Will McEntire, a starter-turned-reliever recently, had one costly mistake: a solo home run surrendered that tied the game at 5 in the ninth inning, but he gave the Razorbacks four innings and the team a chance to win in the 11th inning. Designated hitter Kendall Diggs’ walk-off placed Arkansas in Thursday’s winners’ bracket.

What’s next for each team?: Arkansas, another projected No. 1 seed, gets another shot at LSU after losing two of three to the Tigers during the regular season.

Texas A&M, a projected No. 3 seed, will play South Carolina for the first time this season.


(Photo of BT Riopelle: James Gilbert / Getty Images)

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