The Alabama Crimson Tide head coach knew his team would just lie low and finish the regular season 2-7 in Southeastern Conference games and sandwich in an embarrassing home loss to Jacksonville State. He knew his team would win its sixth conference tournament championship in his nine-year tenure with a dominating 10-3 win over the SEC regular season champion, LSU.
Then he told the media the truth.
"I'm just as surprised as anyone," Wells said. "But the guys believed it was a new season. This is the best time of the year to play well."
Alabama entered the tournament as the number seven seed, and Wells thought his team would have to win two games to probably guarantee an at-large regional selection. After a win over the number two seed (South Carolina), two wins over the number three seed (Auburn on Friday and Saturday), and a win over the number one seed(LSU in the championship game at the Met in Hoover, suburban Birmingham, before some 11,500), the Tide won't have to worry if it will be selected when NCAA Tournament bids are awarded Monday. With the automatic bid from winning the championship, the questions are where will Bama go and how high will the Tide be seeded?
The Tide pushed across three runs in the second and seventh, and tacked on four more in the eighth for the victory. Each of the first five hitters in the lineup had two or more hits. Beau Hearod and Adam Pavkovich led the way with three runs batted in each.
"This is the best thing I think I've ever been through," first baseman Zac Welch said. "Last year we came in here as the number two seed and everyone pretty much expected us to be here. This year, no one really even wanted us to be here. For us to win it, it's the best thing in the world."
Last Sunday, the Tide needed to beat Mississippi State or needed a loss by either Florida or Arkansas to guarantee an SEC Tournament spot. After a big loss to the Bulldogs, the Tide was thankful that both the Gators and the Razorbacks lost. This Sunday, the Tide was playing to bring home a trophy.
"A week ago I was hoping another team would lose and we would get in here," Welch said. "I was hoping we could come in and get one win or two. Now we came in here and upset some people and changed some minds."
Jeffrey Norris (6-2) pitched five and one-third innings to get the win. He scattered nine hits, but despite allowing a number of very hard hit balls – a few of them key outs – Norris allowed only one run. Taylor Tankersley and Brian Reed each allowed a run in relief, but Tankersley induced LSU catcher Matt Liuzza to ground into a key double play to end the top of the sixth inning with the Tide only up 3-1.
Norris became only the second pitcher in SEC history to win back-to-back SEC Tournament championship games. Last year, he pitched a complete game as the Tide defeated South Carolina 6-2 to win the Tournament.
"For us to win, Jeffrey Norris needed to give us five innings or more," Wells said. "He gave us a chance, and the bats got going. We're playing very well right now and I'm proud of our team."
Alabama's Hearod was named MVP of the Tournament, and Welch and Pavkovich joined him on the All-Tournament team. Others on the team included pitcher Jamie Gant of Mississippi State, pitcher Arnold Hughey of Auburn, catcher Bobby Huddleston of Auburn, second baseman Thomas Berkery of Mississippi State, third baseman Steve Gendron of Mississippi State, shortstop Aaron Hill of LSU, and outfielders Javon Moran of Auburn and Nick Pitts of Arkansas.
The Tide will find out its regional destination Monday at 11:30 a.m. CDT on a show that will be televised live by ESPN. With a tournament championship, Alabama could bump itself up to a number two seed. But Bama doesn't want things to stop with just a conference tournament title.
"I hope not," Welch said. "Let's go into a regional and change some minds. It's a brand new season. Let's keep it going."
Tournament Championship Notes
- The Alabama Crimson Tide (37-22) won its fourth straight game en route to the 2003 SEC Tournament Championship with a 10-3 win over No. LSU (40-19-1) for the school's seventh post-season tournament title and second in-a-row.
- The No. 7 seed Crimson Tide is the lowest seeded team to ever win the SEC Tournament. Prior to today, No. 5 seed Auburn was the lowest seed to win the championship under the current eight-team format, beating Arkansas 7-5 in the title game. Miss. State won the 1987 SEC Tournament as the No. 6 seed beating LSU in the title game in Athens, Ga.
- Alabama has captured SEC Tournament Championships in 1983, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2002 and 2003.
- Alabama improved to 7-0 (1.000) in SEC Tournament Championship games with today's win over LSU. The Crimson Tide is 3-0 in tourney championship games against the Tigers, winning in 1995, 1997 and 2003.
- Alabama head coach Jim Wells tied former LSU head coach Skip Bertman with is sixth all-time SEC Tournament championship. Wells has led the Crimson Tide to post-season titles in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2002 and 2003.
- Coach Jim Wells notched his 600th all-time coaching victory with today's win over LSU. In 14 seasons as a collegiate head coach, Wells has compiled a 600-262 (.696) at Northwestern State and Alabama. At the Capstone, Wells is 408-174 (.702) in nine seasons.
- Alabama's four SEC Tournament wins came against Top 15 teams, including wins over No. 14 South Carolina, No. 13 Auburn (twice) and No. 8 LSU. The Crimson Tide has won four straight games against Top 15 teams and has played seven straight games against Top 20 clubs.
- Alabama senior right fielder Beau Hearod (Jennings, La.) was named the 2003 SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player. In four games, Hearod batted .467 (7-for-15) with two doubles, eight RBI and five runs scored.
- Junior shortstop Adam Pavkovich was named to the SEC All-Tournament team after batting .563 (9-for-16) with one home run and two RBI. In addition, Pavkovich added eight runs, four doubles and three walks.
- Sophomore first baseman Zac Welch was also named to the SEC All-Tournament team with a .400 (6-for-15) average at the plate. In four games, Welch added six runs, three doubles and eight RBI.
- Hearod and Welch led all SEC Tournament hitters with eight RBI each.
- Junior left-hander Jeffrey Norris was the winning pitcher for the Crimson Tide in the SEC Tournament championship game over LSU. Norris (6-2) limited LSU to one run and nine hits (all singles) in 5 1/3 innings. He added two walks and four strikeouts.
- With the win over LSU, Norris becomes just the second pitcher in SEC Tournament history to win back-to-back championship games joining former Florida ace Rich Bombard, who beat Kentucky (11-5) and Tennessee (9-3) in 1981 and 1982.
- Norris is just the third pitcher in SEC Tournament history to start two straight SEC Championship games joining Bombard and former LSU right hander Gregg Patterson (1986-87).
- The NCAA Division I Baseball Selection Committee announced the 16 sites for next week's 2003 NCAA Baseball Regionals next weekend. The sites were awarded to Arizona State, Auburn, Cal State Fullerton, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Long Beach State, LSU, Miami, Fla., Mississippi State, Nebraska, North Carolina State (Wilson, NC), Rice, Southern Mississippi, Stanford, Texas and Texas A&M.
- The complete 64-team bracket will be announced on Monday, May 26 at 11:30 a.m. on espn2. Alabama is expected to be one of those 64 teams.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Tournament notes provided courtesy of Barry Allen of UA Media Relations.