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SEC East Opening Weekend Preview

By AJ Sessions

With Opening Day just a couple days away now, here is a quick look at each SEC East team's weekend opponents and a couple key guys to keep an eye on.

Florida Gators: 2023: 54-17 (20-10), College World Series Final

Head Coach: Kevin O'Sullivan

CBC Predicted SEC East Finish: 2.

Friday, Feb. 16, 6:30 pm: vs. St. John's

Saturday, Feb. 17, 4:00 pm: vs. St John's

Sunday, Feb. 18, 12:00 pm: vs. St John's

The Gators take the field for the first time since losing the Championship Game in Omaha, and I have my eye on how Cade Fisher and Liam Peterson fill out the front-end of the rotation. Also keep an eye on how transfer Colby Shelton handles himself defensively at short-stop, and how Luke Heyman handles full-time catching duties behind the plate.

Georgia Bulldogs: 2023: 29-27 (11-19), SEC Tournament

Head Coach: Wes Johnson

CBC Predicted SEC East Finish: 5.

Friday, Feb. 16, 3:00 pm : vs. UNC Asheville

Saturday, Feb. 17, 3:00 pm: vs. UNC Asheville

Sunday, Feb. 18, 1:00 pm: vs. UNC Asheville

In the first series of Wes Johnson's tenure at the helm, I am keeping a close eye on the Bulldog pitching staff in general. They have a lot of returners who have struggled for one reason or another, such as Charlie Goldstein, Chandler Marsh, and Leighton Finley; and I am really interested to see how they start the season on the bump. Also, Kolby Branch and Dillon Carter are two new guys to watch on offense.

Kentucky Wildcats: 2023: 40-21 (16-14), Super Regional

Head Coach: Nick Mingione

CBC Predicted SEC East Finish: 6.

Friday, Feb. 16, 3:00 pm: at USC Upstate

Saturday, Feb. 17, 2:00 pm: at USC Upstate

Sunday, Feb. 18, 1:00 pm: at USC Upstate

Any time a team has a breakout season, it is always interesting to see if the program builds on it, or if it's merely a flash in the pan. For Kentucky, keep an eye on Mason Moore and Dominic Niman from the pitching staff. Moore is moving from the bullpen to the rotation, and Niman is taking a massive step up in competition from CCSU. Mitchell Daly is the new third baseman from Texas, so keep an eye on how he performs for his new squad as well.

Missouri Tigers: 2023: 30-24 (10-20), SEC Tournament

Head Coach: Kerrick Jackson

CBC Predicted SEC East Finish: 7.

Friday, Feb. 16, 8:00 pm: at Cal Poly

Saturday, Feb. 17, 5:00 pm: at Cal Poly

Sunday, Feb. 18, 3:00 pm: at Cal Poly

Monday, Feb. 19, 3:00 pm: at Cal Poly

After injuries to the pitching staff derailed any hope of a good season in 2023, the Tigers' pitching depth will be tested against Cal Poly over a four-game series to start the year. Logan Lunceford and Javyn Pimental will be leaned upon heavily out of the rotation. Offensively, look for Trevor Austin and Wake Forest transfer Danny Corona to set the tone. The lineup has a lot of speed, and I want to see how much they push the envelope early.

South Carolina Gamecocks 2023: 42-21 (16-13), Super Regional

Head Coach: Mark Kingston

CBC Predicted SEC East Finish: 3.

Friday, Feb. 16, 4:00 pm: vs. Miami (OH)

Saturday, Feb. 17, 12:00 pm: vs. Miami (OH)

Sunday, Feb. 18, 1:30 pm: vs. Miami (OH)

The obvious name every Gamecock fan is itching to see is Roman Kimball, the RHP coming back from Tommy John surgery, and for good reason: Kimball has the talent to be the ace of the Gamecocks staff. Beyond him, I want to see how relievers Eddie Copper, Tyler Pitzer, Tyler Dean, and Drake Quinn perform in Garnet & Black for the first time. Also, I am curious to see how the outfield playing time is divided to start the season between Blake Jackson, Dylan Brewer, Kennedy Jones, Evan Stone, and Austin Brinling.

Tennessee Volunteers: 2023: 44-22 (16-14), College World Series

Head Coach: Tony Vitello

CBC Predicted SEC East Finish: 1.

Friday, Feb 16 @ 6: vs. Texas Tech (Globe Life Field, Arlington, TX)

Saturday, Feb 17 @ 8: vs. Oklahoma (Globe Life Field, Arlington, TX)

Sunday, Feb 18 @ 7:30: vs. Baylor (Globe Life Field, Arlington, TX)

After a 2023 Omaha run entirely on the road in the postseason, Tennessee needs to get off to a better start than last year. Drew Beam is going to be solid, as always, but the rotation around him is effectively unproven. Seeing how the Volunteers perform in the Friday and Sunday games will be important. Offensively, transfers Billy Amick and Cannon Peebles supporting Blake Burke and Christian Moore will be fun to watch.

Vanderbilt Commodores: 2023: 42-20 (19-11), Regional

Head Coach: Tim Corbin

CBC Predicted SEC East Finish: 4.

Friday, Feb. 16, 4:30 pm: vs. FAU

Saturday, Feb. 17, 2:00 pm: vs. FAU

Sunday, Feb. 18, 2:00 pm: vs. FAU

Tim Corbin loses speedster Enrique Bradfield Jr., but the identity of this Commodores team is not going to change at all. They are ultra-athletic in the field, and the pitching staff is simply overflowing with impact arms. Freshman Ethan McElvain might be the next ace, and it will be interesting to see where he starts his career in the pitching mix (my guess is high-leverage bullpen piece). I'm also looking to see if Matthew Polk, Jonathan Vastine, and Jack Bulger can take the next step offensively to boost this club's ceiling.


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