Razorbacks Lose in Omaha, but SEC Baseball Keeps Winning
The Oregon State Beavers defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks in the College World Series Finals. Despite winning Game 1, Arkansas fans will be haunted by the misplayed foul ball with two outs in the 9th inning of Game 2. The Beavers rallied to win Game 2 and dominated the Razorbacks in Game 3. OSU’s Kevin Abel threw a masterful complete game, two-hit shutout, striking out 10 and retiring the last 20 batters. It was the only time the Razorbacks went scoreless the entire season.
Despite the fact they fell short of the title, Arkansas’ run is testimony to the overall success of SEC Baseball in the 21st Century. Over the last decade, SEC teams have won 5 of the last 10 College World Series Finals; with teams appearing in 9 of the last 10. The 2017 CWS included a showdown between two SEC teams, Florida defeating LSU. In the 2011 CWS Finals, South Carolina beat Florida. Since 2000, SEC teams have appeared in 12 of 18 CWS Finals. PAC 12 teams have appeared 10 times and ACC teams appeared 5 times over that same period of time. Going back to 1990, the SEC has sent four teams to Omaha three times (1997, 2004, 2015) and three teams, seven times (1990,1996, 1998, 2011, 2012, 2017, 2018). Historically speaking, the PAC-12 has more Championships, twelve of which were captured by Southern California in the 1960s and 1970s.
The SEC Baseball success story has a lot to do with the deep recruiting bases in several SEC states. Of the Top 10 states for high school baseball recruits, five of those states fall within the SEC region (2 – Florida, 3 – Georgia, 4 – Texas, 5 – South Carolina, 8 – Louisiana). Weather is certainly a key factor. While the northern states are still shoveling snow at the start of the college season, late February and early March feels pretty good down South, particularly in Florida and Texas. Fall baseball leagues are very prevalent in these states, giving players an extra season for development.
Regular season attendance in the SEC is also impressive. In 2017, LSU averaged over 10,000 attendees per game, Ole Miss and Mississippi State over 8,000, Arkansas and South Carolina over 7,000. Mississippi State held over 15,000 attendees for games at Dudy Noble in 2014 against Ole Miss and 2016 against Texas A&M. Dudy Noble updated their park prior to the 2018 season, expanding seating capacity to over 13,000. Kentucky and Florida have new stadium projects in the works. As one can infer from the crowds that have traveled to watch the Razorbacks (and Bulldogs) in Omaha, these schools draw a large and passionate fan base.
It seems evident that deep recruiting bases and fan support is helping fuel the success of baseball in the SEC, much like what’s happened with football. But unlike football, where schools like Vanderbilt and Kentucky seem like second tier programs, the success of SEC schools in baseball is more widely dispersed. Vanderbilt is the only small, private school in the SEC and is among the most successful baseball programs. In many SEC towns, like Baton Rouge and Starkville, baseball rather than basketball is the number two sport on campus. While the ACC, Big 12 and PAC 12 remain formidable conferences in College Baseball, the success of SEC Baseball is a story unto itself. Expect this trend to continue in the years to come.
**Photo from NOLA.com / Nati Harnik