Alabama Softball In Stretch Run

The Southeastern Conference softball season is roaring to a close, and it begins just a bit sooner for two of the contenders, league-leading Alabama and Georgia. The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs are getting the next-to-last weekend of SEC play started at Rhoads Stadium Thursday night in a nationally-televised game.

Alabama, 40-8 overall and ranked seventh in the nation, is hosting its final home series of regular season play. The Crimson Tide is 15-3 and leading the SEC race by three games with six to play. First up is Georgia, beginning at 7 p.m. CDT today with television coverage by ESPN. The series continues with a game at 6:30 p.m. Friday and concludes on Saturday at 11 a.m. with ESPNU televising.

With two SEC series remaining in the regular season, Alabama holds a three-game lead over Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee. Another game back and mathematically in the race for the regular season championship are Florida and Georgia. With a sweep over Georgia this weekend and losses by Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee, Alabama could clinch an SEC Championship by holding a four-game lead over the field with just three games remaining. Since there is no tie-breaker for determining a regular season champion, a three-game lead over the field heading into the final weekend would guarantee at least a share of the regular season title.

The Lady Vols and the Wildcats face each other this weekend in Lexington, while Missouri hits the road to face the Gators in Gainesville. Alabama and Missouri meet in the final weekend of the regular season, while Tennessee plays Ole Miss at home and Kentucky plays Georgia on the road.

Alabama is expected to go with its ace in tonight's opener. McNeese handed senior Jaclyn Traina her second loss of the season on Feb. 23, but no one has been able to do so since then as she has won 14 of her 15 starts since that loss. Her one start in which she didn't get a win during that stretch was a no-decision against Mississippi State on April 13, as she threw nine shutout innings before exiting in the 10th.

She earned national recognition for a 2-0 weekend over the Florida Gators in Gainesville, as she was named the USA Softball Player of the Week and the NFCA Co-Player of the Week, the first such honor for any Alabama player since 2010. Over those 15 starts, she owns a 1.53 ERA with 88 strikeouts in 100 2/3 innings. Houston (Feb. 28), Arkansas (April 5) and Georgia Southern (April 18) are the only teams to earn more than five hits against her and no team has scored more than three earned runs.

Georgia has won four of its six SEC series this season, both losing efforts on the road at Missouri and LSU. The Bulldogs won big in two games over Auburn last weekend, defeating them 11-2 and 8-4 in the first two games before the tables were turned in game three, as the Tigers won 8-1 to avoid the sweep.

The Bulldogs have hit an SEC-leading 71 home runs, led by sophomore Alex Hugo with 19 to go along with a .366 average and 52 RBI. Junior Paige Wilson leads the team with a .391 average, 63 hits, 12 doubles, four triples and is second on the team with 10 home runs. In the circle, they have split time relatively evenly between sophomores Chelsea Wilkinson (24-6, 2.11 ERA) and Geri Ann Glasco (14-4, 2.55 ERA), with Wilkinson throwing 214 of the team's 322 strikeouts over 175 2/3 innings pitched.

Alabama holds a 34-14 advantage in the all-time series against Georgia. The two teams last met during the 2012 SEC Tournament in Tuscaloosa, with the Tide winning a close 1-0 game en route to an SEC Tournament Championship. The last three-game series in Tuscaloosa was in 2011, which Alabama swept. The Tide's last series loss to the Bulldogs was in 2005, as Alabama has won seven-straight series.

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