Bama baseball leads off season

The University of Alabama baseball team opens its 111th season of intercollegiate baseball Friday, Feb. 13 by hosting the New Orleans Privateers in the first of three-game series here at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.

The 2004 season opener is slated to begin at 6:30 p.m. (CT). The remaining games of the weekend series will be played Saturday, Feb. 14 (4:30 p.m.) and Sunday, Feb. 15 (2 p.m.). The Saturday game was originally set for 4 p.m., but has been moved back thirty minutes due to Alabama-Tennessee men's basketball game.

The Records

Alabama (0-0) is playing its 2004 season opener tonight, while UNO (1-1) opened the season last weekend and split a home-and-home series against the Southern Jaguars, the defending SWAC Champions.

The Coaches

Alabama's Jim Wells begins his 10th season with the Crimson Tide tonight against UNO. He has compiled a 409-176 (.699) record at the helm of the Crimson Tide. Overall, Wells is 601-265 (.694) as he opens his 15th season as a Division I head coach today.

UNO head coach Randy Bush has posted a 118-118 (.500) record in his sixth season with the Privateers. A 1994 graduate of UNO, Bush spent 00 years in the major leagues with the Minnesota. The Dover, Del., native batted .251 with 96 home runs and 409 RBI in his career. He played on two World Series championship teams with the Twins, beating St. Louis in 1987 and Atlanta in 1991.

Who's on First?

The Alabama Crimson Tide opens the 2004 season with many new faces in the everyday lineup, but a lot of familiar faces on the mound. In the projected opening day lineup against New Orleans, the Crimson Tide will have four starters returning from last year's SEC Tournament Championship team, but only two of those will be playing the same position.
  • Junior Zac Welch and sophomore Charlie Lyons return from last year's club as first base and catcher, respectively.
  • Junior Allen Rice and sophomore Evan Bush also return, but at different positions.
  • Rice played second base last year, but has moved to third base for the 2004 season. Rice was also the starting third baseman on the Crimson Tide's 2002 team as a freshman.
  • Bush played third base last year, but moved to left field just two weeks ago in an effort to insert his much improved bat into the lineup.
  • Senior Carlos Sosa, who played third base and shortstop as a junior in 2002, will be the everyday designated hitter. Sosa missed the 2003 season with a torn ACL.
  • Newcomers in the UA lineup this season, include Rocky Scelfo (2B), Mark Haske (SS), Matt Grooms (CF) and Michael McCallister (RF).

On the Mound

The Crimson Tide boasts one of the deepest and talented pitching staffs in school history.
  • The ace of the Alabama pitching staff is junior left-hander Brent Carter, a preseason All-America selection, who set three school sophomore records last year. In that record-setting season, Carter posted a 10-5 record with a 3.30 ERA and set sophomore records for wins (10), strikeouts (105) and innings pitched (122.2).
  • Alabama is also expected to open the 2004 season with two freshmen in the rotation, including Wade LeBlanc and Brandon Belcher.
  • LeBlanc was the national high school co-Pitcher of the Year last season, leading Barbe HS to a 32-6 record.
  • As a senior, LeBlanc posted a 16-1 record and 0.45 ERA. He added a school-record 189 strikeouts.
  • Belcher is another Louisiana native, who posted an 8-5 record with a 0.84 ERA as a senior. Belcher added 123 strikeouts in 69 innings on the mound.
  • The bullpen will consist of senior Seth Johnson, junior Andrew Walker, sophomore Matt Downs and junior Taylor Tankersley.
  • Tankersley and Downs could be a formidible left-right combination as the closer. Tankersley had six saves for Alabama as a freshman, while sharing the role with Brain Reed.
  • Alabama opens the 2004 season with three left-handers in its weekend pitching rotation. The three lefties include junior Brent Carter and freshmen Wade LeBlanc and Brandon Belcher.
  • It is believed to be the first time in school history Alabama has used three lefties in its weekend rotation.

Opening Day Winning Streak

Alabama has won its last 10 season openers, dating back to the 1994 season. In addition, Alabama also has an 10-game winning streak in home openers. The last opening day loss came Feb. 20, 1993 in a 4-3 loss at South Alabama. The last time UA lost a home opener was Feb. 24, 1993 when South Alabama posted a 6-5 win.
  • In its first-ever game, Alabama defeated Sewanee 6-3 on July 1, 1892 at Birmingham's Lakeview Park. The Crimson Tide was coached by Shelby Fletcher, making his only appearance as the UA baseball skipper.
  • Alabama's most common opening day opponents are Birmingham Barons (11 games), Samford (10 games) and South Alabama (9 games).
  • Alabama has won 10 straight season openers, dating back to the 1994 season.
  • Since 1990, Alabama is 13-1 (.929) in its last 14 season openers. Alabama won 10 consecutive season openers, the longest streak in school history. The current streak began with a 3-0 win over New Orleans to open the 1994 season at the Winn Dixie Showdown in the Louisiana Superdome.
  • Alabama's 4-0 win over Louisiana Tech to open the 2002 season set the all-time UA record for consecutive opening days victories with its ninth straight opening day win.
  • The previous record was eight straight opening day wins from 1901-08 under the guidance of coaches Thomas Stouch, Schwartz (first name unknown) and J.W.H. Pollard.
  • Alabama has not suffered an opening day loss since dropping a 4-3 decision to South Alabama at Mobile's Eddie Stanky Field on Feb. 20, 1993.

Opening Day Starter

There is something special in baseball about being named the opening day starter on the mound. Junior left-hander Brent Carter has that honor when the Crimson Tide opens the 2004 season tonight at the New Orleans Privateers here at the Joe.
  • Carter was the ace of the Crimson Tide staff last season, compiling a 10-5 record and 3.30 ERA in 19 starts.
  • The Americus, Ga., native establsihed single-season records for most wins (10), innings pitched (122.2) and strikeouts (105) by a sophomore last season.
  • Carter is a 2004 preseason All-America selection by National Collegiate Baseball Writer's Association, Collegiate Baseball newspaper and collegebaseballinsider.com.
  • Carter is Alabama's second consecutive left hander to pitch the opening game of the season for Alabama. In addition, he is the fourth lefty to open the season on the mound in the last six years, joining Justin Smith (1999), Mark Carter (2001) and Taylor Tankersley (2003).

UNO Series

Alabama leads the all-time series with New Orleans, 5-3. The Privateers have won three of the last four meetings, dating back to a two-game sweep at Privateer Park in New Orleans during the 1987 season.

Alabama holds a 2-0 record against UNO here in Tuscaloosa, sweeping a two-game series in 1985.

This marks the second time that Alabama has opened the season with New Orleans. In 1994, the Crimson Tide opened the season with a 3-0 win over UNO in the first game of the Winn Dixie Showdown at the Louisiana Superdome.

Scouting Report: UNO

The Privateers return a number of starters off last year's 23-32 club that finished ninth in the Sun Belt Conference (7-17).
  • The marquee name on the UNO roster is junior right hander Thomas Diamond (Kenner, La.) The hard-throwing right-hander has been clocked in the mid 90s and throws four pitches for strikes.
  • The 6-2, 231-pounder is rated as the 12th best junior in Baseball America's Fabulous 50 Juniors for 2004.
  • Last year as a sophomore, Diamond was 3-5 with a 3.39 ERA. He recorded 96 strikeouts in 69 innings. He is rated as the top prospect in the Sun Belt Conference and is a preseason All-Sun Belt Conferece and All-America selection.
  • A potential first-rounder, Diamond really made a name for himself this summer as he posted a 6-1 record and 1.63 ERA for St. Cloud in the Northwoods League. In 72 innings, he struck out 103 batters.
  • Junior right-hander J.P. Martinez was 6-3 with a three saves and a 3.63 ERA last season as a sophomore. Martinez is listed by Baseball America is the league's sxith best prospect.
  • Junior outfielder Joe Pietro is a preseason All-SUn Belt Conference selection and is rated as the league's fastest runner by Baseball America. Last year as a sophomore, Pietro batted .385 with two home runs and 19 RBI and added 10 doubles and 15 stolen bases.
  • He is rated as the league's third best prospect and the 93rd overall top prospect by Baseball America.
  • Newcomer Tony Gonzalez made a big splash in his debut last weekend, hitting three home runs and driving in seven truns in a win over Southern. He is listed as the league's fifth best newcomer by Baseball America. Gonzalez was drafted in the 28th round of the 2003 MLB Draft by the San Fransisco Giants.

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