By Steve Parkhurst
Semifinals day arrived in Hoover, Alabama for the four teams vying for the Southeastern Conference championship. The do-or-die atmosphere in Hoover was electric as two close games unfolded from early afternoon into early evening.
In game one, Florida faced Tennessee. Brandon Sproat got the starting nod for Florida; Camden Sewell took the hill for Tennessee.
The Volunteers got on the board on an Evan Russell bases loaded RBI single to left field in the third to score Liam Spence for a 1-0 lead.
In the fourth, Jordan Beck doubled home a run for Tennessee. Beck then scored on a wild pitch to make it 3-0.
In the top of the seventh, Drew Gilbert hit a two-out single to plate Spence and the Volunteers led 4-0. Spence was 2-for-3 in the contest and scored both times he reached base.
Sewell’s day was done after six complete innings where he only allowed two hits, struck out six and did not walk any batters. Easily the best start of his young career, and at a good time for it.
Asked about how his performance unfolded on Saturday, Sewell said, “the key was trusting the guys behind me—getting ahead early and attacking hitters.”
Redmond Walsh inherited a runner on first and no outs in the seventh and he made quick work of Florida batters.
Sean Henley pitched the final two innings for Tennessee and scattered two hits and did not allow a run to protect the 4-0 shutout. For Tennessee, a team that only had one shutout all season, Saturday gave them back-to-back shutouts.
Florida’s offense was limited to just four hits in the ballgame by Tennessee pinchers.
“We have a lot of confidence,” Spence said after the game. “We always knew that we were good.” Asked how the Volunteers got to Sunday’s championship game, Spence added, “we’re still gaining confidence every day we come out here. And we’re just having fun.”
Tennessee advances to the championship game on Sunday, their first appearance in the game since 1995. They got there by outscoring their opponents 27-2 over their last three games with two run-rule games and two shutouts.
The Volunteers awaited the winner of Arkansas and Ole Miss. Caleb Bolden took the mound for the Razorbacks; Cody Adcock did the same for the Rebels.
Cullen Smith immediately got Arkansas on the board with a two-run home run in the top of the first, and Arkansas led 2-0 before Ole Miss came to bat.
Bolden exited after four scoreless innings as the Razorbacks went to the bullpen.
The Rebels tied the game in the fifth when Jacob Gonzalez hit a bases loaded double on a 3-2 pitch to the gap in right-center.
Arkansas got the lead right back when Jalen Battles doubled down the left field line to plate one run. Battles was 2-for-3 on the afternoon as the shortstop batted in the nine spot.
Wes Burton took the mound for Ole Miss in the seventh and tossed 2 2/3 scoreless frames to keep the game close and the Rebels hopes alive.
Connor Noland pitched the final three innings for Arkansas in a blemish-free outing which included four strikeouts. Noland picked up the save and closed out the Rebels, ending their SEC Tournament run in the process.
Arkansas catcher Casey Opitz was asked after the game about Noland closing the game rather than closer Kevin Kopps. “Anytime Kevin’s not in the game during a close game it’s kind of surprising, but I just love that another guy stepped up, like Connor. It was huge.”
Arkansas and Ole Miss both collected six hits in the contest, and both teams had a two-run inning, but the one extra run for Arkansas was the difference.
Asked if he and the Razorbacks were ready to face Tennessee on Sunday, Opitz replied, “yeah, absolutely. We’re fired up to play anybody.”
Sunday’s championship final will feature Tennessee against Arkansas. First pitch is scheduled for 3pm ET from Hoover as a wild week concludes and a champion is crowned in the Southeastern Conference for the first time in two years.