SEC Gauntlet Has Baseball Cats Ready for Postseason Play

SEC Gauntlet Has Baseball Cats Ready for Postseason Play

by Tim Letcher

On Monday, the NCAA Baseball Tournament selection committee did something it had never done before. The group that selects and places the 64 teams that make the field selected 11 teams from one conference. That league, of course, was the Southeastern Conference.

How good was the SEC this season? In addition to having 11 of its 14 baseball teams make the field, the league produced the top three seeds (Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas A&M) and two more top-eight seeds (No. 5 Arkansas and No. 7 Georgia). That means the SEC could host as many as five of the eight super regionals next week.

Playing high quality teams week after week helps make a team that much better when the NCAA Tournament rolls around. On Monday, following the selection show, Kentucky’s Evan Byers and Nick Lopez both touched on how playing in the SEC has prepared the Cats for this postseason.

“It definitely prepared us for the postseason,” Byers said. “Eleven teams in the tournament. Every weekend in the SEC is basically playing Omaha-caliber teams if you ask me. I think it prepares us very well for the postseason.”

Lopez believes that every weekend in the SEC is like a regional.

“Every weekend is like a playoff game. Playing in front of away crowds and home crowds, you just get that postseason feeling. You’re kind of prepared every single weekend. It’s just, week in and week out, the SEC prepares you for a regional and College World Series-caliber teams. Playing against Tennessee, Arkansas every weekend, so you’re prepared to play in the tournament-style weekend.”

Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione knows that the grind of playing in the SEC is important and that it can pay dividends in the postseason.

“It definitely matters,” Mingione said. “(Former UK pitcher) Ryder Giles was a huge advocate of that. He was a guy who played in (super regionals) and had been close to Omaha. He just kept reminding our guys that what we just went through for 10 straight weeks, that felt like a super (regional). Every super that I was a part of, that’s what it felt like. We are battled-tested, we’re prepared for this. And that’s what our league does.”

Mingione knows that playing in the best league in the country will be beneficial for the Cats as they begin NCAA Tournament play.

“I’m so happy for our league. We got 11 teams in, and NCAA record for most teams from a conference. And, quite frankly, we deserve it,” Mingione said. “Obviously, playing in the greatest league in America, the number one RPI in America, our league has played for the national championship 14 of the last 15 years. I don’t know what other sport can say that. That definitely will pay benefits for us moving forward this postseason.”

The Cats have not faced a non-SEC opponent since topping Louisville on April 16. Lopez believes the last month has prepared the Cats for the NCAA Tournament.

“We haven’t played a team outside of the SEC since April because of weather, so we’ve been preparing every weekend,” Lopez said. “We’re pretty excited for the postseason.”

It’s a postseason that the Cats have been preparing for all season. And playing in the best league in the nation has done nothing but further that cause.

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