Baseball squad ranked

The University of Alabama baseball team has been ranked 35th the 2004 Collegiate Baseball newspaper's Fabulous 40 pre-season NCAA Division I baseball poll. <br><br>Individually, Tide pitcher Brent Carter was named to the pre-season All America squad.

The defending national champion Rice Owls and the Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes are deadlocked at the top of the pre-season poll, which was released Friday morning.

Never in the history of the "Collegiate Baseball" poll, which dates back to 1959, have two teams been tied in the pre-season poll for the top spot in the nation.

Alabama (38-24) returns everyday players Zac Welch (Jr., 1B, .333, 4 HR, 49 RBI), Allen Rice (Jr., 2B, .260, 7 HR, 40 RBI) and Charlie Lyons (So., C, .270, HR, 13 RBI) off last year's team that captured its second straight SEC Tournament Championship and played in an NCAA Regional for the eighth time in nine years under Coach Jim Wells, who celebrates his 10th anniversary in Tuscaloosa this spring. Senior Carlos Sosa (3B, 2002 Stats), who missed the entire 2003 season with a torn ACL, returns for his final season after starting most of the 2002 season for the Crimson Tide.

The Crimson Tide must also replace four of its top offensive players from last year's squad, including Beau Hearod (62 G, 346, 20 HR, 82 RBI), who led the SEC in home runs and RBI last year as a senior. Alabama will also be looking to replace leadoff hitter and starting center fielder Travis Garner (60 G, .335, 2 HR, 29 RBI, 19-24 SB), starting shortstop Adam Pavkovich (62 G, 338, 11 HR, 55 RBI, 27 2Bs) and designated hitter Al Hecklinski (56 G, .301, 11 HR and 49 RBI).

Brent Carter will be a mainstay of this year's Tide pitching staff. (UA photo)

Alabama also returns an abundance of experience on the mound, beginning with preseason All-American left-hander Brent Carter (19 G, 16 GS, 10-5, 3.30 ERA, 122.2 IP, 105 K). Carter was named a third-team preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball newspaper on Friday, his second preseason award.

In November, Carter was tabbed a second-team preseason All-American selection by the National Collegiate Baseball Writer's Association (NCBWA).

Last year, Carter set single-season sophomore school records in wins (10), innings pitched (122.2 IP) and strikeouts (105). He was second in the league in innings pitched and strikeouts and ranked third in wins. In SEC games only, Carter led the league in innings pitched (77) and ranked third in wins (6) and strikeouts (68).

Also returning on the mound are left-handers Taylor Tankersley (Jr., 20 G, 14 GS, 7-5, 5.88 ERA, 90.1 IP, 97 K) and Jeffrey Norris (Sr., 19 G, 11 GS, 6-2, 5.32 ERA) and right-handers Seth Johnson (Sr., 21 G, 10 GS, 7-6, 4.71 ERA, 78.1 IP, 82 K) and Allen Ponder (So., 13 G, 2 GS, 2-3, 5.74 ERA).

Rice (58-12 last season) returns what many consider to be one of the best pitching staffs in the history of college baseball with three first team Louisville Slugger pre-season All-Americans in RHP Jeff Niemann (17-0, 1.70 ERA, 156 K, 35 BB), RHP Wade Townsend (11-2, 2.20 ERA, 164 K, 46 BB) and RHP Philip Humber (11-3, 3.30 ERA, 138 K, 39 BB). All three are expected to be first round draft picks in next June's Free Agent Draft.

Miami finished fifth in the nation at the College World Series and rolled to a 45-17-1 overall record last season. The Hurricanes return every starting position player from a year ago in addition to every starting pitcher and every key member of the bullpen.

Headliners include Louisville Slugger pre-season All-American SS Ryan Braun (.364, 17 HR, 16 2B, 76 RBI, 13 SB), All-American LHP J.D. Cockroft (11-3,2.72 ERA, 94 K, 35 BB) and former All-American closer RHP George Huguet (7 SV, 2.36 ERA), plus a host of quality, quality ball players.

As far as pitching, Miami returns three superb starters in Cockroft, LHP Brandon Camardese (9-2, 5.01 ERA), RHP Vince Bongiovanni (8-4, 4.00 ERA) and quality relief specialists in RHP Huguet and RHP Shawn Valdes-Fauli (5 SV, 5-0, 3.02 ERA).

On offense, the team has a nice blend of power (70 HRs last season) and gap power (134 doubles) along with speed (122 stolen bases). As far as defense, Miami was second in the nation in double plays (72 in 63 games).

The "Collegiate Baseball" Newspaper poll is the oldest college baseball poll. Its birth took place during the 1957 college baseball season.

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