Slim Chances For Bama

A baseball team can hope, can't it? The Alabama Crimson Tide baseball team has suffered disappointment after disappointment this season. Each week the chance to win a Southeastern Conference baseball series slipped away. Then last week, Bama took two of three games at Kentucky. And now there is a chance–albeit, the slimmest of chances–that Alabama could qualify for the SEC Tournament at the Hoover Met in suburban Birmingham May 26-30.

While Alabama did defeat Kentucky two of three games in Lexington last weekend–the first time the Tide has won an SEC series this year and the first time Bama has won a road series since turning the trick against the Wildcats two years ago–Alabama still had its share of continuing bad luck against Kentucky. The game Alabama lost on Saturday by a 9-8 margin took 12 innings. And in that game Alabama let a golden opportunity get away, hitting into a double play with the bases loaded and one out. Alabama lost two leads in that game and then had its offense go into its customary snooze state in the late-going.

Alabama snapped two lengthy series losing streaks at Kentucky. The Tide had lost 11 straight SEC series. Alabama's last SEC series win came against Arkansas (which was ranked 15th in the nation at the time) April 25-27, 2003, in Tuscaloosa. Bama's last road series win had been at Kentucky April 12-14, 2002. Amazingly, despite the lack of success, Alabama has not been swept in an SEC series.

Another streak that fell by the wayside on Sunday was the Crimson Tide's inability to win a one-run game. Bama's 12-11 series-clinching win at UK snapped a four-game losing streak in one-run games, dating back to a 5-4 win over UAB at the Hoover Met on April 14. Alabama also snapped a six-game SEC losing streak in one-run games on Sunday, winning for the first time since beating then-fifth-ranked Ole Miss 2-1 on March 27. Alabama is 5-11 (.313) in one-run games this season, including a 2-7 (.222) mark in SEC games this year.

Alabama is now 29-23 overall and 10-17 in SEC play. Bama is tied for 10th overall in the SEC (tied for fifth in the SEC Western Division with this weekend's foe, Mississippi State). The top eight teams make the SEC Tournament. Last year Bama barely made it into the tournament, then–as has frequently been the case under Coach Jim Wells–Bama was able to win the championship.

A number of things have to happen for Alabama to get into the SEC tournament. First the Tide must sweep Mississippi State. The games at Bama's Sewell-Thomas Stadium will be at 6:30 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. If Alabama does not make the SEC Tournament, that will mark the conclusion of 2004 competition.

Six of the eight spots in the SEC Tournament are already filled. Teams that have qualified are Georgia (17-10 in SEC play), South Carolina (16-11), Florida (16-11), Arkansas (17-10), Mississippi (17-10), and LSU (16-11). Kentucky (7-20) is the only team that has been mathematically eliminated. Still in contention are Vanderbilt (13-14 and hosting Kentucky this weekend), Tennessee (12-15 and hosting Florida), Auburn (11-16 and playing at Arkansas), and Mississippi State and Alabama, both with 10-17 records.

Each week Alabama (and every other SEC team) is allowed to nominate both a position player and a pitcher for SEC weekly honors. This week Bama nominated third baseman Evan Bush for Player of the Week and (as usual) freshman left-hander Wade LeBlanc for Pitcher of the Week.

Here are the nominees, and other baseball notes prepared by Barry Allen of the Alabama Media Relations Office:

Alabama Player of the Week Nomination is third baseman Evan Bush, a 6-1, 207-pound sophomore from Rainbow City. In three games Bush batted .500 (6 for 12) with a home run, five runs batted in and three doubles at Kentucky. He had the game-winning RBI in both Alabama wins.

He tied his career high with three hits, including a home run, in the Tide's 6-2 win in the series opener. He also had a run-scoring double in that game, driving in what proved to be the winning run. He also had three hits in Bama's 9-8, 12-inning loss. Although he did not have a hit (0-2) in the series finale, he started and ended the Tide's six-run seventh inning that led to the 12-11 comeback win. He opened the inning with a walk and then capped the inning when his sacrifice fly scored David Ferazza with what proved to be the winning run.  

Bush, who has had the game-winning RBI in each of the Tide's last three games, tied the Alabama record for sacrifice flies in a season with his eighth. (Clint Thompson had eight in 1987.) In Saturday's game Bush ran his hitting streak to a career-best 12 games, matching the longest by any Alabama player this season. During the streak Bush batted .442 (19 for 43) with eight runs scored, six doubles, one home run, and seven RBI. He has hit safely in 20 of Alabama's last 25 games and is now the Tide's third-leading hitter. For the season he is batting .321 (53 for 165) with seven home runs and 30 runs batted in. He leads Alabama in home runs, sacrifice flies, and game-winning runjgs batted in (seven).

Alabama Pitcher of the Week Nomination is left-hander Wade LeBlanc, a 6-3, 180-pound freshman from Lake Charles, Louisiana. In the series opener at Kentucky he pitched a complete nine-inning game, allowing six hits, two earned runs, walked one and struck out six in a 6-2 victory.

The extraordinary rookie leads both the SEC and the nation in complete games with eight. The win was his fourth straight complete game. He is tied with Gene Lary (1955) for second most complete games in Alabama history. Frank Roland (1956) holds the Bama record with 10.

With his eighth win of the season, LeBlanc has tied B.J. Green (1998), Scott Murphy (1999) and Taylor Tankersley (2002) for most wins in a season by a freshman. LeBlanc also holds UA single-season freshmen records for innings pitched (106.2) and strikeouts (91)

Inhis last four starts, LeBlanc has allowed three earned runs (0.77 ERA) in 35 innings. He had a 13 1/3 innings scoreless streak snapped in the fourth inning in the win over UK. Earlier this season, he posted 19 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings.

For the season, LeBlanc is 8-4 with a 1.60 ERA in 14 starts this season. He has three complete game shutouts and has to be a serious candidate for National and SEC "Freshman of the Year" honors.  

ALABAMA BASEBALL NOTEBOOK

Alabama and Auburn are the only two teams in the SEC not to win a home series this year ...

The Crimson Tide batted .331 (40-for-121) at Kentucky, with 17 extra base hits, including four home runs and 26 RBI ... UA had 12 doubles in the three-game series ... Bama outscored the Cats 10-0 in seventh, eighth and ninth innings in the series ... The .331 average is the highest this season in an SEC series and second highest average (.384 vs. Cincinnati) overall for Alabama ... The UA pitching staff had its share of problems at Kentucky, posting a 6.44 ERA (29.1 IP, 21 ER) in the series ... The 6.44 ERA is the highest in a series this year by Alabama ... Bama allowed 20 runs (19 ER) in its last two games and has seen its earned run average rise to 3.15 ERA this season, the highest since a 3.48 ERA on Feb. 20th ... The Crimson Tide's ERA has been higher than 3.00 only six times in 52 games, including the last two games ...

UA head coach Jim Wells has compiled a 438-199 (.686) record in 10 seasons with the Crimson Tide ... Overall, Wells is 630-280 (.685) in 15 seasons at Northwestern State and Alabama .... With the series win at Kentucky, Wells now has 173 career SEC wins, moving him past former Alabama coach Dr. Barry Shollenberger (171) into second place on the school's all-time conference victories list .... Coach Tilden "Happy" Campbell is the all-time leader with 265 career SEC wins ...

Alabama has won three straight SEC series openers following its 6-2 win over Kentucky on May 14 ... The winning streak in series openers includes wins over No. 6 LSU, No. 10 Florida and UK ... Bama is now 4-5 (.444) in SEC openers this season ... Alabama also improved to 3-5 (.375) in Friday SEC games ... The Crimson Tide is 5-4 (.556) in SEC Saturday games this season ... In fact, five of the 10 wins have come on Saturday ... Dating back to last year, seven of UA's last 11 SEC wins have come on Saturday ... However, Alabama has lost its last two Saturday SEC games, including the 9-8 setback at UK ... The Crimson Tide is 2-8 (.200) in SEC Sunday games this season ... The 12-11 win over UK on May 16 snapped a four-game losing streak on the final day of the weekend ... Despite it's 2-8 (.200) Sunday SEC record, Alabama has scored the same number (54-54) of runs as the opposition this season ...

Alabama had its eight-game winning streak at Cliff Hagan Stadium snapped with a 9-8 loss in 12 innings on May 15 ... Alabama is 0-3 in extra inning games this season and has lost four straight extra inning games, dating back to a 10-6, 13-inning win at South Carolina on Mar. 29, 2002 ... UA's 12-11 win in the series finale at Kentucky not only gave the Crimson Tide its first SEC series win of the season, but also extended its winning streak to 21 straight games when scoring 10 or more runs, including a 12-0 record this season .... Dating back to the 2000 season, Alabama is 67-1 (.985) in its last 68 games when scoring 10 or more runs ...

A total of 12 Alabama players have combined to miss 214 games this season with injuries ... UA's second-leading hitter, Rocky Scelfo (.322, HR, 27 RBI) has missed the last eight games with a knee injury that may require surgery ...

The Alabama pitching staff has six shutouts this season, which ties the 1991 team for the third-most in school history ... Only the 1974 (11) and 1967 (7) teams have more shutouts ... Alabama is 8-14 (.364) against  ranked teams this season ... Bama has a 10-16 (.385) record against teams that have been ranked at some point during the season ... Alabama finished with a 9-11 (.450) road record this season the identical record as last year ...

Junior second baseman/DH Allen Rice (.355, HR, 28 RBI) enters the final week of the regular-season riding a six-game hitting streak ... During the streak, he is batting .444 (12-for-27) with two doubles, two triples, three RBI and five runs scored ... He has four multi hit games in his last six games for the Tide ... Freshman right fielder Michael McCallister (.272, 2 HR, 17 RBI) was the second-leading hitter at Kentucky, with a .417 (5-for-12) average with one home run and four RBI ... The Green Cove Springs, Fla., native has hit safely in a career-best five straight games for Alabama ... During the streak, he is batting ..389 (7-for-18) with one home run and four RBI ... Since April 16, he has hit safely in 13 of his last 15 games and is batting .346 (17-for-49) ... McCallister hit just his second home run of the season in the series finale, his first home run since the 2004 SEC opener at Georgia (Mar. 19) ... Junior LF Gabe Scott (.297, 4 HR, 12 RBI) hit .400 (4-for-10) in the UK series with a pair of RBI ... Scott has hit safely in four straight games (.385) and 12 of his last 13 games (.326) since April 23 ... Junior 2B Mark Haske is in the midst of an 0-for-16 slump over his last three games ... Sophomore catcher Charlie Lyons drilled a two-run home run in game two of the Kentucky series, his first home run of the season ... Lyons home run was just the second of his career and first in 53 games and 157 at-bats, dating back to March 2, 2003 against Rhode Island .... Junior LHP Taylor Tanklersley (18 G, 2-4, 1.64 ERA, 4 SV) suffered a loss and earned a save in his two appearances at Kentucky ... He was the losing pitcher in the Tide's 9-8, 12-inning setback on Saturday as he allowed his first run of the season out of the pen (21 IP, 12 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 24 K) to snap his streak of 20 1/3 scoreless innings of relief ... He struck out Mike Bertram on Sunday to end the game and clinch UA's first SEC series win of the year ... Junior RHP Andrew Walker (13 G, 4-0, 2.98 ERA) earned his first career SEC win at UK (3.1 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 K) on May 16 ... Senior RHP Seth Johnson (21 G, 2-3, 4.63 ERA) continued his struggles out of the pen this weekend, especially on Sunday ... In two appearances, Johnson was touched for seven runs and 12 hits in just 2 1/3 innings ... In his last seven relief appearances, Johnson has yielded 18 earned runs (13.13 ERA) in 12 1/3 innings, including six runs and eight hits in one inning on Sunday.


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