Tide's SEC Lead On Line Vs. Vols

Halfway through the Southeastern Conference baseball season, Alabama is first in the conference and eighth in the nation. But the road to the end of the season is a very difficult one, starting this weekend at 29th ranked Tennessee. Moreover, the Crimson Tide may be missing one of its top weapons.

Alabama's leading hitter, four-year starter Austen Smith, has missed the last three games due to a bone bruise on his left wrist. Smith, who is hitting .355 for the season, is hopeful to return for the Tennessee series.

The No. 8-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (26-11, 10-5 SEC) travels to Knoxville to play a three-game conference series against the No. 29 ranked Tennessee Volunteers (24-11, 6-9 SEC). The series between the Crimson Tide and Vols begins on Friday, with first pitch scheduled for 5 p.m. CDT from Nelson Stadium. Game two is scheduled for 3 p.m. CDT on Saturday and the series finale is Sunday at 1 p.m. CDT.

The Alabama pitching staff ranks third in the SEC and 10th nationally with a 2.32 ERA. The Tide ranks third in the SEC and fourth in the country allowing 6.4 hits per game.

Spencer Turnbull will make the start of Friday and enters the series with a 4-2 record and a 1.71 ERA, which ranks eighth in the SEC. Justin Kamplain (3-2, 3.57 ERA), who will start on Saturday, was the SEC Pitcher of the Week last week and leads the team and ranks sixth in the SEC with 51 strikeouts. Jon Keller (5-1, 1.86 ERA) leads the team with five wins and will make his seventh start of the season on Sunday.

Tennessee will counter with senior right-hander Nick Williams (4-3, 2.60 ERA) on Friday, freshman right-hander Hunter Martin (2-2, 2.91 ERA) Saturday, and freshman right-hander Kyle Serrano (3-2, 4.91 ERA) Sunday.

The Tide has a four-game winning streak, taking the last two games of a three-game series against Auburn last weekend, then winning mid-week games against Jackson State and UAB. Alabama has won nine of its last 12 games and 20 of the last 26 overall. At the midway point of the SEC schedule, the Crimson Tide has a 10-5 record and is in sole possession of first place in the overall conference standings.

Wade Wass and Georgie Salem enter the series against Tennessee with five-game hitting streaks. Wass is hitting .474 (9-19) with five RBI, two doubles and a run scored during his streak. Wass enters the series against the Vols with a .301 average for the season, while leading the team with a .350 average during SEC play. Salem is hitting .417 (10-24) with a double, one RBI and five runs scored in the last five games. Salem is now second on the team with a .302 average this season, while leading the team with 49 hits and 162 at-bats.

Tennessee has won five of its last seven games. In its last SEC home series, Tennessee took two of three games from the fourth-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores two weeks ago. Tennessee has a .280 team batting average, while hitting .248 in conference games. The Vols have a 2.89 ERA for the season, with a 3.38 ERA during SEC competition, and opponents are hitting .225 against Tennessee.

Nick Senzel leads the Vols with a .339 average and is tied with Scott Price for the team lead with 27 RBI. Christin Stewart, who is second on the team with a .328 average and 26 RBI, leads Tennessee with 11 doubles, three triples and four home runs. Will Maddox leads the team with 29 runs scored and 14 stolen bases, while posting a .313 average, with 20 walks for a .425 on-base percentage.

In a series that dates back to the 1897 season, Alabama is 71-34 all-time versus Tennessee. This weekend's games will mark the 106th-108th games played all-time between the two schools. In the most recent series, Alabama posted a series win over the Vols, winning two of three games played in Tuscaloosa during the 2013 campaign. In the last series in Knoxville, the Vols swept the Tide during the 2012 season.

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