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Rain causes a log jam for SEC Tournament

By By Austin Bishop / EMG regional sports editor
May 22, 2003
Thumbing through the thick cobwebs of my mind on a Thursday while wondering whatever happened to Gene Morgan …
HOOVER, Ala. Things just got interesting for the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament.
When rain caused the postponement of Wednesday's first day of play, it probably had a lot of pitching coaches for the eight teams in the tournament reaching for a roll of Tums.
It is tough enough to win four games against NCAA Tournament quality competition over a five-day period. When you try to cram all of those games into four days, it becomes nightmarish for the men who have to juggle their pitching staffs.
Pitch counts become more important, as do the decisions on how far to go with a pitcher, especially relievers who may have to make two, three or even four appearances before the tournament comes to an end at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium on Sunday.
And if a team falls into the losers' bracket, the best the pitchers can really hope for is that their team scores a ton of runs.
Any team that loses their tourney opener today, will have to win five games to win the SEC title, including two on Saturday and two more on Sunday. The same thing is true for teams that win today's opener, but lose Friday's second-round winners' bracket contest,
To overcome such an obstacle, your pitching staff either has to be deeper than the Atlantic Ocean our your hitters need to be great Barry Bonds' impersonators.
It wouldn't hurt to have both.
Scanning the 2003
Tournament Field
The odds-on favorite to win the tournament would have to be top-seeded LSU, which won the Southeastern Conference regular season title with a league record of 20-9-1.
South Carolina was 19-11 in league play and along with Auburn and Mississippi State picked up the most overall wins with 38.
The top bracket features South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Auburn and Alabama, while the bottom bracket is home to Ole Miss, State, LSU and Arkansas.
The Bulldogs could give LSU a real challenge. State went 8-2 this season against the three teams in its bracket and has a strong one-two starting punch on the mound in Paul Maholm and Alan Johnson.
Johnson is expected to get the start when MSU faces Ole Miss today at 5 p.m. The big right-hander has a 5-3 record and an ERA of 4.08. Maholm, a left-hander with an overall mark of 8-2 to go with an ERA of 2.53 has been singled out by Baseball America as the top pro prospect in the SEC Tournament.
The magazine's April issue had Maholm listed as the No. 8 prospect in the country. MSU third baseman Steve Gendron and Bulldog pitchers Jon Papelbon and Todd Nicholas are also in the Top 100,
Ole Miss' projected game-one starter, T.J. Beam, comes in at No. 99. He has an 8-1 record and an ERA of 2.46.
Garner Ready
to Roll for Tide
Early in the year Travis Garner ran himself into trouble with University of Alabama head coach Jim Wells.
But after a long talk, Garner returned to the field and became a leader for the Crimson Tide.
In an early-season game against the University of Massachusetts, Garner, a former Meridian Community College standout, stole third on his own with two outs and one of Alabama's best hitters at the plate.
Wells didn't play Garner for the next two games and it took a 90-minute conversation to clear the air.
Consider the air pretty clear at this point, as Garner comes into today's first-round of the SEC Tournament with a team-leading .371 batting average. He easily leads the team in stolen bases with 18. The next best is seven.
Garner, who holds or shares several MCC school records, is tied for the team lead in triples with four and is tied for second in runs scored with 55.
Another former MCC standout, who like Garner is a senior, has also had a strong season for the Tide.
Right-handed reliever Brian Reed has recorded 11 saves and posted a 2-2 record, while making 27 appearances for Alabama this season.

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