We have reached the final three weekends of the 2019 SEC baseball season — or, the stretch run.
As of this writing, on Thursday evening while sitting at a desk in a hotel room in Aberdeen (work related), Vanderbilt and Arkansas are tied atop the conference with 15-6 records. Georgia, LSU, Miss. State and the “other” school in the Magnolia State all sit at 13-8.
On May 21, the 2019 edition of the SEC baseball tournament is scheduled to get under way in Hoover, Ala., where it has been played every year since 1998.
The above conference records are important because the teams that finish in the Top 4 of the SEC receive a first-round bye. Also, of the 14 teams in the conference, only the Top 12 advance to play in Hoover.
That is very important to Alabama, Kentucky and South Carolina, which all enter this weekend with 5-16 conference records and trail Florida and Tennessee (both 9-12 records) by four games. With the Tide, Wildcats and Gamecocks all having nine conference games left to play (just like the rest of the teams in the SEC), it would appear that whichever of those three teams finishes with the best record will make the tourney and the other two will be sitting at home.
On the final weekend of the SEC regular season (May 16-18) the SEC Network and ESPNU will be hosting a “Wildcard Weekend” for the conference. SEC Network will air Bases Loaded on May 17 beginning at 6 p.m., and the SEC Wildcard Weekend will air on ESPNU and SEC Network on May 16 and 18.
Bases Loaded features every baseball team in the SEC, nine of which are currently ranked in the Top 25. The show is a live compilation of seven games — all 14 teams — taking place that evening across the conference.
Every game of all seven series that weekend will air live on either the SEC Network, ESPNU or SEC Network+.
Last weekend in Starkville, Mississippi State senior outfielder Jake Magnum became the all-time hits leader in the conference when he broke the record of 352 career hits by Eddy Furniss (LSU). Mangum enters this weekend with 355 career hits. Magnum and the Dawgs have 11 regular-season games left. Add to that the SEC tourney (possible four games), an NCAA regional (possible four games), an NCAA Super Regional (possible three games) and the College World Series (possible seven games) that Mangum could play in and get more chances to add to his hits total.
That’s a possibility of 29 more games. But, let’s cap it at 25. Currently Mangum is averaging 1.8 hits per game and, if he were to continue that average through 25 more games, he would finish his collegiate career with an even 400 hits. And even if that isn’t the NCAA Division I record (418 hits by Wichita State’s Phil Stephenson in the 1970s), it would still be a pretty darn impressive milestone to reach.
If Mangum is able to play in 25 (or more) games in the Maroon and White, then the Dawgs from StarkVegas will likely be playing for a national championship.
Since 1947, the first year of the College World Series, the SEC has won 11 national titles, while the Pac-12 has won 18. However, the SEC has won all of its titles since 1990 and, in the same time span, the Pac-12 has won six.
In the past 10 seasons, the SEC or Pac-12 has won eight of the last 10 titles (SEC five, Pac-12 three).
The stretch run in the SEC will be fun to watch all the way through the tourney in Hoover.
Last year, the SEC set a record by sending 10 teams to the NCAA tourney. While the number might not be as high this year, it will still be a heckuva stretch run.
And, if you can go to Bok Homa and make a wager on which team wins the CWS this year — take the Dawgs. I have a feeling that this is the year that Miss. State finally breaks through and brings home the first national championship to StarkVegas via Mangum and the Diamond Dawgs.
The stretch run is under way and it will be a fun journey to behold.
Guru Nichols is former sports editor of the Leader-Call.