BATON ROUGE — The Southeastern Conference game is finally here. Because LSU’s #1 baseball game requires a restructuring of the competition.
The Tigers (16-1) have dominated the game outside of conference, having won six of their last eight games under the 10-run rule and outperforming opponents 195-38 in their first 17 games.
That LSU dominance should soon dissipate, however, when this weekend’s SEC games begin at Texas A&M for the Tigers.
Here are five SEC teams poised to rob LSU of their money this spring.
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South Carolina (17-1) has become a surprise contender in the SEC this season after posting a 27-28 record a year ago.
The Gamecocks are the only team in the conference other than LSU to suffer a loss. They have blasted 48 home runs at the top of the SEC and are third in the conference with a 2.55 team ERA.
First baseman Gavin Casas already has 10 home runs, while right fielder Ethan Petry has a .800 slugging percentage and a .486 on-base percentage. On the mound, Will Sanders, Jack Mahoney and Noah Hall combined to allow just 23 earned runs in 66⅓ innings.
A relatively easy out-of-conference schedule contributed to their early success, but the Gamecocks still have a series win over Clemson under their belt.
It’s been a strong start to the season for Arkansas (14-2) as the Razorbacks already have victories over Louisiana Tech (a series sweep), Oklahoma State and Texas. They have maintained their status as the country’s top 10 team and hit the ball well, posting a .430 team OBP and .575 slugging percentage so far.
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But injuries have already plagued Arkansas. Projected ace Jaxson Wiggins and reliever Koty Frank are both out for the season, while top relevant Brady Tygart is on the shelf for the next five to six weeks with a UCL sprain.
As a result, the Razorbacks fought on the hill. In 16 games they hold a 5.04 ERA.
Only Mississippi State has lost as many games this season as Vanderbilt (13-5). The Commodores have struggled at the plate, averaging just a .247 batting average.
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The story goes on
But no club in the SEC had anywhere near as difficult a schedule as Vanderbilt. And while it’s lost its fair share of games, it also has wins over UCLA (two), Texas, Oklahoma State and Maryland.
The pitching of the Commodores has also more than asserted itself against the tough competition. Carter Holton, Devin Futrell, and Hunter Owen all have ERAs under 3.25.
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Ole Miss (14-3) lost to Jacksonville State on Tuesday, but the Rebels are still defending the national champion and a top-five team for good reason.
Outfielder Kemp Alderman has led the way at the plate with eight home runs. Additionally, star shortstop Jacob Gonzales has continued to produce at a .524 slugging percentage. Ole Miss has seven players with at least a .340 batting average who have made 14 or more starts.
The rebels were not so successful on the hill. Although the bullpen is up to standard, Ole Miss has only one starter with at least three starts this season who has an ERA of less than five.
The only team in the SEC with an ERA better than LSU is Tennessee (15-3). Thanks to the three-headed monster Chase Dollander, Chase Burns and Drew Beam leading the rotation, the Volunteers have a team ERA of 2.05 and 219 strikeouts in 158 innings.
His offense has had some ups and downs, but Tennessee still has three players with five or more homers, including first baseman Blake Burke, who already has eight homers and an .877 slugging percentage.
Koki Riley covers LSU sports for The Daily Advertiser and the USA TODAY Sports South region. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @KokiRiley.
This article originally appeared in the Lafayette Daily Advertiser: LSU Baseball: Tennessee among SEC Teams Ready to Challenge Tigers