BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON

HOOVER, Ala. – For the fourth time in less than a week, the Arkansas and Alabama baseball programs will meet.

That became a certainty on Tuesday when the Crimson Tide downed Georgia 5-3 in an elimination game that opened the SEC Baseball Tournament.

Alabama (31-25) took two of three games from Arkansas (38-16) in Tuscaloosa last weekend, including a 18-5 laugher in the series finale.

The game is slated to begin around 1 p.m. at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium after an opening day that saw over six hours of rain delays and three stoppages.

“You know, we just go play,” Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon said. “Arkansas is a great team. They didn’t play their best at our place, but they’re one of the best teams in the league.

“You get in the SEC tournament and the deeper you go in the week, the better the teams are. Everybody you play is going to be really good.”

Third-seeded Arkansas has not announced a starter for Wednesday’s game, but it is thought that Will McEntire and Hagen Smith are possibilities for the assignment.

McEntire started and went four innings in Arkansas’ 7-3 Thursday win while Smith, who had started each weekend until last, pitched in relief in Saturday’s game.

Bohannon said he would likely start senior right hander Jacob McNairy (6-2), who pitched the opening five innings in Alabama’s 8-6 win last Friday.

McNairy gave up four runs on six hits while fanning seven and walking three in that contest.

“Yeah, I’d like to just get with (Alabama pitching) Coach(Jason) Jackson before I announce anything, but there’s a good chance it’ll be Jacob McNairy.”

The Alabama-Georgia game was delayed an half-hour from its original starting time of 9:30 a.m. and then there was a two-hour rain delay soon after the Crimson Tide scored three runs in the first and another couple in the second.

It was a fast start for Alabama in a game where a loss would have eliminated it from the SEC Tournament and likely ended its already slim NCAA Tournament hopes.

“Really proud of our club,” Bohannon said. “Obviously it was a do-or-die day for us, and really proud of the way they came out. You could tell that our kids were really excited today and came out hot.”
It was tough after the rain delay for both teams, who ended with just six hits each.

Garrett McMillian started and pitched the first two innings before freshman Ben Hess entered after the rain delay and fanned a career-high 10 while keeping the Bulldogs scoreless over the next 5 1/3 innings.

Georgia did cut it to 5-3 in the eighth when Connor Tate hit a two-run homer that scored his brother Cole.

“The players deserve all the credit,” Bohannon said. “I really didn’t do anything. When you get this deep into the season, you’ve had some of these experiences.”

Bohannon thinks the Friday win over Arkansas that clinched an SEC Tournament berth loosen his team up.

“I really feel like after the Friday game with Arkansas you could just feel a different level of looseness within our team, and what do you know, you’re seeing some better production, especially offensively,” Bohannon said.

“These kids like to play. They really like each other. They really like playing the game of baseball. They didn’t need any pep talk. I ran out of those about three or four weeks ago.”

In two other elimination games Tuesday, Florida downed South Carolina 2-1 in 10 innings and Vanderbilt ousted Ole Miss 3-1 in a game that finished near 1 a.m.

Auburn and Kentucky were supposed to play Tuesday as well, but that game was pushed to Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m.

The revamped schedule will have second-seeded Texas A&M facing Florida at 4:30 and top-seeded Tennessee playing Vandy in the nightcap.