Tide Tries to Hold SEC Lead

One baseball game turned into something seemingly more important last Sunday as Alabama toppled 4th-ranked LSU and claimed its first series victory in over a ranked team since Alabama swept No. 15 Arkansas on April 25-27, 2003 in Tuscaloosa.

The Crimson Tide (22-9 overall, 6-3 Southeastern Conference) is looking to maintain a hold on that momentum this weekend in a three-game series on the road against 9th-ranked Mississippi (21-8 overall, 5-4 SEC) at Swayze Field in Oxford beginning Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Alabama owns a one-game lead over Ole Miss, LSU and Auburn in the SEC Western Division race entering the fourth weekend of conference play. Alabama has won six of its first nine SEC games this season after winning only 10 SEC games all of last year en route to an 11th place finish.

Alabama Head Coach Jim Wells will look a fourth consecutive solid pitching outing from Friday night starter T.J. Large (5-2, 1.31 ERA).

Large is 1-1 with a 1.57 ERA in three Friday night starts against SEC foes. During those starts Large struck out 14 batters and allowed four earned runs, nine hits and 15 walks in 23 innings of work.

But Mississippi is one of the best offensive clubs in the SEC, batting .322 (324-for-1,007) with 37 home runs and 210 RBI and averaging 7.9 runs and 11.2 hits per game.

The offense is built around a pair of All-America candidates in juniors Stephen Head and Brian Pettway. The duo has combined to hit .368 (84-for-228) this season with 20 home runs and 65 RBI. Pettway, the starting right fielder, is the leading hitter with a .430 (49-for-114) average with 10 home runs and 32 RBI in 29 games.

Head, the first baseman and sometimes DH, is batting .307 (35-for-114) with 10 home runs and 33 RBI in 29 games. In nine SEC games, he is hitting .250 (9-for-36) with five home runs and nine RBI. Of his nine hits in SEC, six (2B, 5 HRs) have gone for extra bases.

Head has been a starting pitcher but is expected to be used in relief this weekend.

Despite Head's recent batting slump, Wells called him possibly the best player in the SEC, and compared him to a former Bama great.

"On the college level (Head) is a great two-way guy. On the next level he's a 1st baseman and a power guy. He is a great competitor. He's not really a pitcher but he wins," Wells said. "I compare him to the player we had in (Roberto) Vaz."

Ole Miss will use right hander Mark Holliman (4-1, 4.11 ERA) on Friday night.

Saturday's 4 p.m. game will match two lefties. Brent Carter (4-2, 3.18 ERA) will pitch for Alabama against Matt Maloney (4-1, 0.89 ERA). Maloney has previously worked in relief and has four saves this season.

Mississippi will start Anthony Cupps (5-2, 4.54 ERA) on Sunday while Alabama has yet to name a starter for Sunday's game. That game will begin at 1:30 p.m. None of the weekend's game will be televised.

"Until (number one starter Wade) LeBlanc is back it's going to be difficult to write down three starters. It worked out last week because of what Large did, but it's hard to ask guy to throw a nine inning shutout every time," Wells said.

Alabama vs. Ole Miss Notes:

Mississippi's spring football game is Saturday in Oxford and the Rebels are expecting standing-room-only, record crowd for the Saturday game.

Senior OF Gabe Scott is fourth in hitting in SEC games with a .433 clip ... He has hit in 23 of his last 25 SEC games.

*The Rebels have been ranked in the Top 10 nationally this season, but are coming off a series loss at Vanderbilt, where UM suffered back-to-back losses (April 2-3) for the first time this season.

*In fact, the Rebels bring a three-game losing streak into their series opener with Alabama, following a 10-9 loss at Southern Miss on Tuesday night.

Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco has tweaked his rotation this weekend against Alabama and has moved junior LHP Stephen Head back to the bullpen.

*Junior RHP Mark Holiman (Germantown, Tenn.) will get the nod in the opener. Holliman is 4-1 with a 4.11 ERA in seven starts this year. He has worked 46 innings and allowed 48 hits, 23 runs and 21 earned runs, with 16 walks and 53 strikeouts.

*In three SEC starts, Holliman is 1-1 with a 4.74 ERA and opponents are batting .320 against the righty.

*Junior LHP Matt Maloney (Huron, Ohio), one of the league's premier closers, will move into the rotation against Alabama this weekend and will pitch on Saturday. Maloney has worked 13 games and posted a 4-1 record and 0.89 ERA, with a team-leading four saves.

*He has worked 40 2/3 innings and allowed 24 hits, four runs and four earned runs, with eight walks and 52 strikeouts.

*Maloney had held the opposition to a .164 batting average. In SEC play, Maloney has an 0-1 record and 0.77 ERA, with two saves in five appearances.

*Junior RHP Anthony Cupps (Madison) will start the series finale on Sunday. He is 5-2 with a 4.54 ERA in a team-high eight starts. Cupps has worked 41 2/3 innings and allowed 54 hits, 23 runs and 21 earned runs, with nine walks and 23 strikeouts. In three SEC starts, Cupps is 2-1 with a 5.49 ERA and opponents are batting .349 against the right-hander.

Head, who also plays first base, will move back to the bullpen this weekend against Alabama. He is 5-1 with a 4.14 ERA in seven starts. The lefty has worked 45 2/3 innings and allowed 46 hits, 23 runs and 21 earned runs, with 15 walks and 40 strikeouts. In three SEC starts, Head is 2-1 with a 5.75 ERA and has 20 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings.

*Alabama is 6-3 (.667) in Southeastern Conference play and sits alone in first place in the Western Division. Alabama and Florida are tied for the overall SEC lead with identical records through nine games.

*The Alabama pitching staff ranks first or second in a number of pitching categories this season.

*In all games, Alabama ranks first in opponents batting average (.209), innings pitched (282.2 IP) and strikeouts (314).

*The Crimson Tide also ranks second in earned run average (2.74) and pickoffs (9) through 31 games.

*In SEC play, leads the league in wins (6) and innings pitched (87.2)

*Bama also ranks second in earned run average (3.29) through nine games.

*Individually, Alabama has several pitchers among the Top 10 in the league in several categories through 31 games.

*The Crimson Tide has three of the SEC's top ERA leaders this season. Junior RHP Jordan Davis is fourth (1.15), junior RHP T.J. Large is sixth (1.31) and freshman LHP David Robertson (1.38) is sixth.

*Alabama has three pitchers among the leaders in opponents batting average.

*Robertson leads the SEC as opponents are hitting just .120 (13-for-108) against the rookie. *Large is fourth (.167) in opponents batting average and Davis (.189) is seventh.

*The Crimson Tide also has three of the SEC's Top 10 strikeout leaders, including Large (2nd, 59 K), senior LHP Brent Carter (3rd, 58 K) and sophomore LHP Wade LeBlanc (10th, 48).

*LeBlanc, who has not pitched in four weeks, leads the league with 17.28 strikeouts per nine innings.

*Large is fifth in innings pitched (55 IP) and Carter is eighth (51 IP).

*Robertson and Davis are seventh in the league with 13 appearances on the mound.

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