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January 9, 2013

Three and out: SEC Tourney Makeover



When did you stop beating your wife?

Remember that time we all quit watching baseball because it causes in-grown ear hairs? Me either.

Remember when we quit stopped lining foul-lines because it contained trace levels of mayonnaise. Not really.

Well remember when the people said teams shouldn't make the NCAA Regionals if they didn't make their conference tournament?

This one, people actually said. But it wasn't any more true than the other two zanies.

Nowhere in the NCAA Tournament Selection criteria is there any mention of qualifying for a conference tournament.

People keep saying it - we can keep saying how awful beer and bacon taste - but that doesn't make it true.

The 2013 SEC Baseball Tournament, which will be held in Hoover for the 16th consecutive year, will increase from 10 to 12 teams.

With 12 of their 14 programs annually making the conference tournament the SEC has squashed a fallacy, a wives-tail, a falsehood. The move quiets some of the criticism of a league that will continue having more teams play for the big trophy than put their bats up in May.

The 11th and 12th place teams can now win their way into the NCAA's with a few wins. Obviously, their spot could come at the expense of a conference mate that bested them in the standings but the hope is it could maximize the conference's bids.

Perhaps the bigger reason the change was implemented involves the stigma of missing out on conference tournament altogether. In past seasons coaches who did not make the Hoover trip found themselves on the hot seat. This move allows two more coaches to avoid that negative stigma and perhaps delay a warm bottom.

Another big change is the format of the tournament. Last season ten teams made the field with the top four seeded teams receiving a bye on one the first two days. In 2013 that changes as the entire first day becomes a single-game play-in between teams 5-through-12 to form an eight team field.

The new format sure brings some excitement with one-and-done games on the first day. The question that obviously presents is there are eight fanbases who will make the trip to Hoover with four of them watching their team exit on Tuesday. Will they still come in record numbers and does anyone really care if they don't?

Seven times in the last 10 years the tournament has surpassed the six-digit mark in total attendance. How will that Tuesday tightrope walk affect the gate?

Apparently an attendance dip was a reasonable concession for the possibility of an extra SEC Regional squad.



So the Jones's next door got a beamer, huh?


David Perno is easy to like. Since taking over as the Georgia head baseball coach in 2001, Perno has won people over with an easy smile, straight talk, and three CWS trips.

The past two seasons have not gone as well. UGA missed the postseason in 2012 after needing a miracle run to slip into the field in 2011. Meanwhile, top rivals South Carolina and Florida keep making trips to Nebraska.

After a pair of rough seasons dealing with losses more debilitating than any scoreboard can produce, Perno is due for some good fortune.

Could 2013 be the year Foley Field returns as a contender's home?

Georgia will be relying on some young arms in the starting rotation, potentially one sophomore and two freshmen. Sophomore Luke Crumley and freshmen David Gonzalez and Sean McLaughlin will have to adjust quickly. Veterans Blake Dieterich and Bryan Benzor lead the pen.

The offense should be improved as Perno looks to have similar success with the hitters after focusing on the pitching in 2012. The 2012 pitching staff had a 3.86 ERA, the lowest in the aluminum bat era (began in 1974) but Georgia batted just .279 last year and averaged 4.9 runs a game.

The lineup figures to feature a mix of seniors and newcomers. Looks for senior Brett DeLoach and freshman Zack Bowers to catch. Sophomore Jared Walsh or Freshman J.T. Phillips will man first base. Sophomore Nelson Ward is the man to beat at second base while seniors Kyle Farmer is at short and Curt Powell is at third. The outfield has a new look with sophomore Justin Bryan, sophomore Hunter Cole and the two-way player McLaughlin in the outfield. Look for freshman Daniel Nichols and sophomore Jared Walsh are DH candidates.

The Bulldogs will need their freshmen to grow up fast to keep pace in the brutal SEC East.


APB for Pitching and Defense on the Plains


Despite a charming facility and some good talent, Auburn has found difficulty competing in the SEC annually. Blame it on the lottery, blame it on the neighbors, blame it on tequila shots on an empty stomach.

Wherever the dart of blame lands, Auburn is hungry for a winner and hopeful this is the season John Pawlowski gets his baseball squad back into contention.

The offense is missing some key cogs off the 2012 club with the losses of Creede Simpson (graduated/drafted), Justin Bryant (graduated), Zach Alvord (transferred) and Jay Gonzalez (suspended for the year). Expectations are still pretty high that the lineup is still going to be one of the best in the league with Ryan Tella, Cullen Wacker and Garrett Cooper all returning, Patrick Savage stepping into a bigger role, and an influx of talented newcomers.

Savage will play somewhere, either first, right, or DH. Tella will play center while Wacker, Bobby Andrews, and Sam Gillikin all factor in the outfield picture. Dan Glevenyak should play short while Damek Tomscha handles the hot corner. Jordan Ebert or Tanner Cimo will end up at second while Cooper figures to play a lot of first. Blake Austin should catch.

A problem spot last season is a point of emphasis for 2013 as the Tigers were last in the league in fielding last year with a .964 team fielding percentage. That obviously must improve.

For Auburn to push their way into contention this Spring they will need to figure it out on the hill. The only weekend starter back is southpaw Daniel Koger. He could be flanked by righties Rocky McCord and Dillon Ortman. Trey Cochran-Gill and Terrance Dedrick are bullpen arms to watch.

You don't need to be Bull Durham to know the deal in Auburn this Spring. Pitch the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball. They should hit plenty. But in this case one out of three won't win any awards.




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