Tide Baseball Faces Better Foe

After sweeping their opening Southeastern Conference at home against Kentucky last weekend the Alabama baseball team (19-5 overall, 3-0 SEC) faces a much more difficult challenge in its second SEC series at Vanderbilt (15-5 overall, 1-2 SEC) this weekend.

Friday's game is scheduled for 6 p.m., Saturday's game for 2 p.m. and Sunday's contest for 1 p.m. The Saturday game is scheduled to be televised on CSS.

"We feel like we need to play better to beat Vanderbilt," Tide Coach Jim Wells said. "Vanderbilt is a better team than Kentucky. They're not going to commit 12 errors and they're going to make you earn the runs."

Alabama will start junior right-hander T.J. Large (4-0, 1.18 ERA) on Friday against Jensen Lewis (4-0, 1.08 ERA) for Vanderbilt. On Saturday, Bama's Brent Carter (4-2, 2.17 ERA) will face Vanderbilt's David Price (1-0, 0.54 ERA)

Wells has not yet decided who will start for the Tide on Sunday against Vandy's junior right-hander Matt Buschmann (2-2, 1.95 ERA).

Sophomore Wade LeBlanc will make the trip to Nashville with the team, but is not scheduled to pitch. LeBlanc bruised his arm in a pile-up in celebration of a come-from-behind win over Miami (Ohio) two weeks ago.

"With LeBlanc out it bumped everybody up, and like we did last week we will see what we have on Sunday. We have some options, whether it be Brandon Belcher, (Josh) Copleand, David Robertson or (Jordan) Davis," Wells said. "It might be where we get two innings out of a guy and put something together the rest of the way."

LeBlanc is expected to pitch next week when the Tide hosts LSU.

"I talked to Dr. (James)Andrews (Thursday) morning and he said to take him on the trip, if nothing else to make sure does his rehab. There is a lot of bruising, but no structural damage - like all the other doctors have said. My understanding is that Wade's feeling a lot better. He should be ready for next week," Wells said.

The Commodore won their first 12 games, but have lost five of the last eight. Vanderbilt lost two of three to Mississippi State in its conference opening series and was swept by Baylor in a three game series the week before.

Alabama wrapped up a 16-game home stand Wednesday night in a 5-3 come-from-behind win over Jacksonville State. While the Crimson Tide was 14-2 in the home stand, the play in those games wasn't exactly crisp.

"The good thing is we have been able to win some of these games. That's good because two months from now you don't look and see how you won them or how you played," Wells said.

Bama opened the home stand with eight straight wins, its longest winning streak of the season, and closed out the home stand with a five-game winning streak.

Vanderbilt has won the last two series (2001 and 2004) from Alabama, including last year's three-game series in Tuscaloosa. The last four meetings between the two schools have been decided by five total runs, including three one-run games.

Tide Baseball notes:

Alabama is the last SEC team to debut at Hawkins Field. The series will be Alabama's first-ever appearance at the three-year old Charles Hawkins Field on the Vanderbilt campus. The Crimson Tide has not played in Nashville since the 2000 season, when UA swept the three-game series.

Alabama coach Jim Wells, who tuned 50 on March 21st, seeks his 650th career win in the series opener at Vanderbilt. Wells has compiled a 649-296 (.688) record in 944 games at the Division I level and is 457-207 (.688) in 11 years at Alabama.

The Commodores had to replace four everyday starters and one the best pitchers in college baseball off last year's club. Ryan Klosterman (SS), Cesar Nicolas (1B), Jonathan Douilliard (C) and Worth Scott (RF) all graduated, while LHP Jeremy Sowers was taken in the first round of the 2004 MLB Draft.

The Commodore offense is built around junior second baseman Warner Jones, who led the SEC in hitting as a sophomore with a .414 batting average. Jones is hitting only .314 (27-for-86) in 20 starts, with five doubles, one triple, two home runs and 10 RBI. The leading hitter is freshman infielder Alex Fineberg (Orinda, Calif.), who is batting .412 (21-for-51) in 15 games, with 10 runs scored, three doubles and three RBI.

Two regulars off last year's team who made significant contributions to Vandy's run to the Super Regionals return and are the second and third leading hitters on the club. Senior infielder Tony Mansolino (Clovis, Calif.) is hitting .397 (29-for-73) in 20 starts with two home runs and a team-best 18 RBI. Junior 1B/3B Mike Baxter (White Stone, NY) is third on the team with a .362 (25-for-69) with a team best three home runs and 16 RBI. Baxter also leads the team with 19 runs scored, while Jones is second with 18 runs.

The Commodores lost junior left-hander and ace Ryan Mullins two weeks ago when he was indefinitely suspended by coach Corbin prior to the Baylor series, but Mullins was reinstated on Wednesday, March 23. He is not in the weekend rotation against Alabama.

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