Scrum for top four spots in SEC tourney

Published 11:00am Thursday, May 15, 2014

Heading into the final weekend of the Southeastern Conference’s regular season, Florida stands alone atop the standings.

Everything else is a jumbled mess.

Seven teams are separated by three games, and still alive for one of the top four seeds in the league tournament next week in Hoover, Ala.

The top four seeds — the two division winners and the next two teams with the best record — get a bye for the single-elimination first round of the tournament.

That sets up the final regular-season weekend as a mad dash for glory, with all of the contenders needing a series victory at the least, and preferably a sweep.

“I’ve looked at it a couple of times, but we can’t focus on that. We’ve got to focus on winning three games this series,” Mississippi State pitcher Ross Mitchell said of the different scenarios and tiebreakers.

Florida has a three-game lead in the Eastern Division, and Ole Miss a one-game lead in the West.

Florida (35-18, 19-8 SEC) plays at Tennessee this weekend and can clinch the East with one victory. Ole Miss is at Texas A&M and can clinch the West title by winning the series.

Behind the division leaders, a couple of series will have a large impact on determining the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds for the tournament.

South Carolina (40-13, 16-11) and Vanderbilt (39-14, 16-11) play each other in Nashville. The winner of that series will earn one of the byes.

Mississippi State (33-19, 16-11), meanwhile, is at Alabama (33-19). The Bulldogs have at two-game lead on the Tide and LSU, and can clinch a bye with a series victory.

Any slip-ups, however, will open the door for one of those teams — as well as the loser of the South Carolina-Vanderbilt series — to move up in the pecking order.

“We can just control what we do this weekend. We’ve got to focus on us, and focus on getting a sweep. That’s what’s most important,” Mitchell said.

Beyond the frontrunners, there will also be a mad dash for seeding in the single-elimination round of the tournament.

Twelve of the SEC’s 14 teams qualify, and so far only Missouri has been eliminated.

Tennessee (30-20, 11-16), Georgia (25-26-1, 10-16-1) and Auburn (28-25, 10-17) are all fighting for the final spot in the tournament.

Alabama and LSU might have trouble earning one of the byes, but are also among five teams with between 12 and 14 SEC wins that will be jockeying for position this weekend.

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