Gators
Jac Caglianone and Wyatt Langford celebrate Langford's home run in the Gator baseball team's 17-8 win over Auburn on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Mallory Peak.

SEC Baseball Tournament Preview: Can the Gators Make It Out Alive?

The 2023 SEC Baseball Tournament bracket is now officially set, and one thing looks to be certain: there will be plenty of excitement all tournament long.

This year’s Southeastern Conference tournament field looks as tough as ever before. Seven of this year’s 12 SEC squads finished the 2023 regular season ranked in the latest NCAA Top 25 poll. Additionally, the top four teams in the tournament all rank within the nation’s top 10, as well. The Florida Gators lead the pack as the top seed with a 42-13 overall record. Florida also clinched its first regular-season SEC championship in five years with a 20-10 record in conference play. They finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the country, only behind the 45-9 Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

However, the Gators will face plenty of stiff competition along the way in their quest for their first postseason conference championship since 2015. The Arkansas Razorbacks, LSU Tigers and Vanderbilt Commodores round out the remaining top seeds in the tournament. Florida never faced off against the No. 2 Razorbacks or No. 3 Tigers in their regular season. The Gators did manage to sweep the No. 4 Commodores in their sole regular season series.

The rest of the field will also likely give UF a run for its money throughout the tournament. The No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks were the only team to sweep the Gators throughout the entire regular season. Florida also struggled against the No. 10 Texas A&M Aggies in the regular season, as well. The Aggies took home the win in two of their three matchups against the Gators this year.

But in spite of the tough race to the top of the SEC, Florida still looks poised to continue dominating on the diamond. With their 20-10 record in SEC play matching the Razorbacks as the best in the conference, the Gators have proven time and time again that they are the team to beat this year.

Looking At The Lower SEC Seeds

The opening round of the tournament features plenty of firepower and promising matchups. Game one will feature the No. 6 Gamecocks taking on the No. 11 Georgia Bulldogs on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. South Carolina hosted Georgia in a three-game series in March and swept them with ease. However, the Gamecocks fell apart in the final month of the regular season. After their sweep of the Gators boosted them to No. 3 in the country, South Carolina finished the year with a 4-11 record in their final 15 games. Considering the Gamecocks’ recent struggles, the Bulldogs have an ideal opportunity to turn some heads with an early upset.

Game two has the Tennessee Volunteers pitted against the Aggies. Tennessee appears as a heavy favorite to win this one, having swept Texas A&M earlier in the year and finishing the regular season ranked No. 13 nationwide. Nevertheless, the Aggies have already played spoiler multiple times throughout the 2023 campaign. With a pair of late-season series victories against Florida and Kentucky, Texas A&M has another opportunity to pull off a prime-time upset.

Later on in the day, the Kentucky Wildcats and Alabama Crimson Tide will face off in what may be the tightest matchup of the first round. Both squads finished with a 16-14 record in conference play. The Wildcats squeezed by with a 2-1 series victory over the Crimson Tide in the regular season. Two of their regular season meetings went down to the wire, with both games being decided by just one run. Game three will likely wind up as another close contest between these two squads.

Finishing up day one, the Auburn Tigers will go up against the Missouri Tigers in the opening round finale. Missouri, the bottom-seed of the tournament, will likely have their work cut out for them against a tough Auburn squad. The two teams met in their final respective series of the 2023 season. Auburn came out on top in all three games.

ROUND ONE OVERVIEW

#6 South Carolina (38-17, 16-13 SEC) VS #11 Georgia (29-26, 11-19 SEC): May 23 @ 10:30 a.m.

#7 Tennessee (38-18, 16-14 SEC) VS #10 Texas A&M (32-23, 14-16 SEC): May 23 @ 2:00 p.m.

#8 Kentucky (36-17, 16-14 SEC) VS #9 Alabama (38-17, 16-14 SEC): May 23 @ 5:30 p.m.

#5 Auburn (33-19, 17-13 SEC) VS #12 Missouri (30-23, 10-20 SEC): May 23 @ 8:00 p.m.

While the opening round of the tournament will feature quite some talent across the board, round two will feature the best of the best in the SEC. Florida, Arkansas, LSU and Vanderbilt have all established themselves as powerhouse programs in the world of college baseball. Each team has stood out in its own respective way throughout 2023. With that being said, they all have one common goal: to win it all.

Taking A Gander At The Top Dogs

The No. 4 Commodores have lurked near the top of the conference nearly all season long. Vanderbilt has ranked in the top 10 in D1 Baseball’s ranking nearly all year long. A brief stumble saw them fall to No. 12 in the final week of the season. However, they jumped back up to No. 8 after defeating the Razorbacks in their final series of the season. RJ Schreck has led the charge for the Commodores at the plate with a .324 batting average, along with 13 home runs and 55 RBIs. While the Commodores have the least firepower of the top four seeds, they are still a force to be reckoned with in this year’s tournament.

Looking at the No. 3 Tigers, LSU has already taken home its fair share of hardware this year. Outfielder Dylan Crews was named the SEC Player of the Year, while junior ace Paul Skenes earned the SEC Pitcher of the Year award. Crews has compiled a .429 batting average and a 1.310 OPS, while Skene holds a 1.76 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. The Tigers have also benefitted from a breakout campaign from sophomore Tommy White, who leads the team with 20 home runs and 89 RBIs. Only time will tell if LSU’s top-tier talents can lead them to the promised land.

Sitting at No. 2 in the bracket is the SEC regular season co-champion Arkansas Razorbacks. While the Gators earned the No. 1 seed in the tournament on a tiebreaker, the Razorbacks have still put together a fantastic season. Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn was named the 2023 SEC Coach of the Year. He guided the program to a 39-15 overall record and a 20-10 record in conference play. The Razorbacks have been led by Jace Bohrofen (.332/.449/.631) at the plate and Hagen Smith (2.56 ERA/1.247 WHIP) on the mound.

Is It Finally Florida’s Year to Take the SEC?

That leaves the top-seeded Gators. Florida has rode their electrifying offense to new heights this season. With plenty of powerful bats in the lineup, the Gators have compiled a .301 team batting average with 111 home runs in 2023. While there are plenty of big names on Florida’s roster, two players have stood out above the rest: Jac Caglianone and Wyatt Langford.

Langford, a projected top pick in the 2023 MLB draft, has retained a .399 batting average throughout the 2023 season. He also leads the Gators in runs scored (66), doubles (20), walks (44) and OPS (1.354). Caglianone, on the other hand, has dominated both on the mound and in the batter’s box. He leads Florida’s starting pitchers with a team-best 3.96 ERA in 61.1 innings pitched. At the plate, he knocked out a school-record 28 home runs in 2023. Caglianone’s standout season played a major role in putting Gators baseball back on the map.

Florida also has multiple other standout players that have contributed to their surge to the top of the SEC. Second baseman Cade Kurland, shortstop Josh Rivera and reliever Brandon Neely each earned All-SEC First Team nods. Starting pitcher Brandon Sproat nabbed a spot on the All-SEC Second Team, as well. Additionally, Kurland, a freshman, ended up on the All-SEC Freshman Team alongside catcher Luke Heyman.

With all the star power on their roster, the Gators have a golden opportunity to reestablish themselves as the top dogs in the SEC. The road to an SEC championship will not be an easy one, but Florida has proven that they are more than capable of lifting the trophy at the end of the tournament. Whether or not they will actually piece a championship run together, only time will tell.

About Jack Meyer

Jack Meyer is a third-year student at the University of Florida. He is majoring in Journalism and specializing in Sports and Media.

Check Also

Pat Dooley’s Back Nine: 9-3 Record Gets Florida In College Football Playoff

The Back Nine comes at you after a great weekend that led right into the …