Baseball off to good start

Alabama (16-3, 3-0) has been hot lately, winning its last eight games. Alabama is ranked in all four major polls (from 14th to 21st). As usual, several SEC teams are ranked, with South Carolina, Auburn, Mississippi State, Florida, and LSU leading the way.

Earlier in the season Alabama gave Rice, top-ranked in one poll and no worse than fourth in any, its only loss of the season thus far.

Alabama won its tenth Western Division title last season with a 20-10 league mark, and its 51-15 overall record marked the fourth time the team has won 50 or more games in a season (all under Coach Jim Wells).

Alabama's strength so far has been its pitching, with the staff compiling a sterling 2.38 ERA.

Beau Hearod has been Bama's offensive mainstay. (photo by Tom Neil)

Alabama's week-end starters are all lefthanders. Sophomore Taylor Tankersley, 3-0, 2.20, and the league leader in strikeouts (45) is the normal Friday starter. Sophomore Brent Carter, 4-1, 1.41 ERA (leads UA with two complete games; 5 ER in last 34 IP) gets the call on Saturday. And so far senior Jeffrey Norris, 2-1, 5.23 ERA pitches the finale.

Brian Reed, a hard-throwing senior righthander, is the closer and already has five saves this season. A pair of newcomers, freshman Allen Ponder and JC transfer Seth Johnson have also been very impressive. Used so far for long-distance relief, Ponder has an ERA of 1.08 and a very impressive strikeout to walk ration of 19:7. Johnson has a 1.26 ERA with 18 strikeouts in his last 14 innings pitched.

Other pitchers who are being counted on are juniors Jared Woodward and Ryan Beagle (tonight's starter) and sophomore Eric Mennen.

Three batters have led the Tide attack so far. Right fielder Beau Hearod (.409, with 7 home runs and 35 RBI), first baseman Zach Welch (.387, with 2 home runs and 17 RBI) and shortstop Adam Pavkovich (.382, 6 home runs and 23 RBI).

Left fielder Grant Redding is batting .367 (no home runs, 8 RBI), but hasn't had enough at bats to qualify for SEC ranking. Welch and Pavkovich have posted long hitting streaks. Hearod is an SEC leader in home runs (7), RBI (35), total bases and triples.

Hearod was the SEC Player-of-the-Week last week, after batting .692, with 1 home run and 10 RBI in the four games he played in during the week ending March 10th. He also had two game-winning hits during that period and posted a slugging percentage of 1.078. 17 of his 22 hits have been for extra bases.

Allen Rice is the current SEC Player of the Week. In four games, the Pelham, native batted .583 (7-for-12) with five runs scored, two doubles, one triple, two home runs and nine RBI. He also compiled a 1.417 slugging percentage. He hit safely in all four games to raise his season batting average 63 points over the course of the week. Rice was instrumental in the Crimson Tide's three-game sweep of the Georgia Bulldogs and was responsible for the winning or tying run in all three games. In the Georgia series, Rice batted .600 (6-for-10) with four runs scored, two doubles, two home runs and nine RBI.

Other probable starters are freshman Charlie Lyons at catcher (.262, 1 HR, 7 RBI), sophomore Allen Rice at second base (.283, 4 HR, 19 RBI), freshman Evan Bush at third base (.186, O HR, 8 RBI), senior Travis Garner (.345, 0 HR, 8 RBI) in center field, and senior Al Hecklinski (transfer from UAB, .356, 3 HR, 14 RBI) at designated hitter.

Brandon Avalos and Shaud Williams

Key reserves are junior Brad van Winkle at DH (.302, 0 HR, 6 RBI), junior catcher Bobby Burns (.222, 1 HR, 2 RBI), senior catcher John Marshall (.200, 0 HR, 2 RBI), junior first baseman Nathan Meiners (.182, 1 HR, 3 RBI), freshman second baseman Trey Moody (.500), junior outfielder Gabe Scott. The football/baseball trio of freshman outfielder Brandon Avalos (.304, 0 HR, 4 RBI), sophomore first baseman/third baseman/outfielder Spencer Pennington (.273, 0 HR, 1 RBI), and junior infielder/outfielder Shaud Williams (.286) have all shown promise as reserves. Avalos and Pennington could end up starting.

Alabama is hitting a good .319 as a team, and last week was a surprising second in the SEC (to Florida) in home runs. The weak spot so far has been fielding, with the team's fielding percentage of .957 rated last in the league early on.

One unusual statistic is that Tide batters have been hit by pitchers 42 times already, an average of 2.21 per game. The school record is 70 and NCAA record is 125, with Alabama on pace to break both. Rice has been hit by pitches 1 times and Hecklinski 7.

Alabama plays at Florida this week-end, then hosts LSU on A-Day week-end.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to Grif Carden, one of Bama's most loyal and knowledgeable baseball fans, who contributed this piece.

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