Local talent highlights SEC Tournament

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Three former Warren County standouts, from left, Vicksburg High’s Robby Goodson, Warren Central’s Brian Pettway and Warren Central’s Taylor Tankersley, take the field Wednesday afternoon for the SEC Tournament. (Photo Illustration by Travis PassmoreThe Vicksburg Post)

[05/20/03] Hoover, Ala., could aptly be re-named Warren County East this week when a host of local baseball talent descends on suburban Birmingham for the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament.

Three players one each from Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama with Vicksburg ties will be on display, two facing each other in the opener.

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Warren Central graduate Brian Pettway the starting third baseman for Ole Miss and ex-Vicksburg High standout Robby Goodson of Mississippi State will battle in Wednesday’s second game.

“It’s always a rivalry,” Pettway said of the opener with the in-state Bulldogs. “We just want to win the first one and move onto the second day. State is always tough, though.”

The Bulldogs, who enter the tournament with the fourth seed, swept Ole Miss in an early season SEC series. The winner of this game advances to play either Arkansas or LSU on Thursday.

“They are a very quality SEC opponent,” Mississippi State coach Ron Polk said. “They’ve been playing very well of late.”

The Rebels have won four of their last six SEC games, but are fresh off a pair of losses to Auburn in the final SEC series of the regular season.

“This year has been a little bit different,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “We’ve played really well in conference (17 wins), but out of conference, we have not been that strong. We play well when it counts, and I think we are playing our best baseball right now.”

The matchup, which follows the Vanderbilt-Auburn game Wednesday morning, will also be a reunion of sorts for Pettway and Goodson.

Although Goodson is two years Pettway’s senior, the two collided in several regular season high school games and in summer ball.

Pettway leads the Rebels with seven home runs and is hitting .258. Goodson, on the other hand, is mirroring his performance from late last season.

Always a strong hitter, Goodson came on late last year to become one of the Bulldogs’ most vaunted hitters. He is hitting .350 this season, including a three-game stretch where he had nine RBIs.

Goodson was used sparingly throughout most of the regular season before hitting his late charge.

“We’ve been getting some timely hitting lately,” Mississippi State coach Ron Polk said. “The strengths of our club, though, is pitching and defense.”

The Bulldogs plan to pitch Alan Johnson in the opener, while Ole Miss is deciding between T.J. Beam and freshman phenom Stephen Head.

Before those two face off, though, ex-Warren Central star Taylor Tankersley and the struggling Crimson Tide take on second-seeded South Carolina.

Two weeks ago, Alabama was swept at home by the Gamecocks. They lost two of three to Mississippi State this weekend, but still earned a berth.

“They have a very good squad,” said Tankersley, who opened last year’s SEC Tournament with a win over Mississippi State. “One through nine, they don’t have any real standouts besides (Brian) Buscher, but they are solid top-to-bottom.”

Buscher leads the SEC with a .391 batting average, and is the team leader with 12 home runs.

Whether Tankersley gets to face off against South Carolina is an unknown.

The sophomore is 6-4 on the season with a 5.57 ERA. He said Monday that he will skip a tryout with Team USA and a return trip to the Cape Cod League this summer. Instead, he will stay in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and leave pitching behind for a few months.

“This has been an up-and-down season,” Tankersley said.

Brent Carter is slated to get the start Wednesday for the Tide. Carter is 9-5 on the season.

“We’ve been finding ways to win ballgames that Carter pitches,” Alabama coach Jim Wells said. “We need to string a few wins together where Carter doesn’t pitch.”

In the first game of the day, third-seeded Auburn squares off with Vanderbilt. In the nightcap, top-seeded LSU plays Arkansas, the No. 8 seed.

“This has been a very good season for us. so far,” said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, whose team lost two of three to the Tigers in the final SEC weekend series. “We’ve had some ups-and-downs, but we continued to get better and better.”

The double-elimination tournament will continue on Thursday, and go until Sunday’s championship game.