Bama Hosts No. 8 Gamecocks

It will be the same game against a different big name this weekend for Alabama baseball, as the Crimson Tide faces a top-ten team for the fourth consecutive weekend. Alabama (27-12 overall, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) hosts eighth-ranked South Carolina (29-9, 9-6 SEC) at "The Joe" in Tuscaloosa beginning Friday.

All three games in the series will be televised – CSS will broadcast Friday's 6:36 p.m. start as well as Sunday's 2:06 p.m. first pitch while Fox Sports Net South will have Saturday's game at 3:06 p.m.

After being on the road for the past two weekend series, Alabama officials are expecting some of the biggest crowds of the year as teams begin the second half of Southeastern Conference play.

"It's nice to be at home," Alabama Head Coach Jim Wells said. ""Looking over South Carolina, they've got a lot of familiar names. (Friday night starter Aaron) Rawl has been there for nine years, it seems like. We're familiar with them. They've been the best team in the league for three, four years now. We look forward to playing them. We feel like we're a better club now. To be at home is a plus."

Alabama will start T.J. Large Friday night opposite Rawl. Large (5-3, 2.16 ERA), who has been outstanding in the Friday-night starter's role for Alabama, had an uncharacteristically mediocre outing his last time out against Florida which was hampered even more by Bama fielding errors.

Rawl, a senior, is 7-2 on the season with a 2.90 ERA. He has worked 59 innings and allowed 66 hits, 27 runs and 19 earned runs, with 13 walks and 51 strikeouts. *He is 33-11 (.750) in his career in Columbia and is eighth all-time at USC with 313 2/3 innings. Rawl is fifth on the all-time list with 79 career appearances.

Saturday, Alabama will send Wade LeBlanc to the mound. LeBlanc, who was a dominating starter for the Tide a year ago, is looking to return to form after being forced out by a bruised shoulder. In six starts LeBlanc is 2-2 with a 4.18 ERA.

"Our hope is that LeBlanc keeps getting stronger and keeps improving," Wells said. "That'd be a big plus for us. Large has shown he's capable, which is good, but we have to play defense behind him, and he has to pitch better with runners on."

On LeBlanc, Wells said, "Our hope is that he'll be better than he was last week. Last week (at Florida) was better than (last) Tuesday (against Memphis). But it wasn't good enough to beat a team like Florida. His pitches need to get sharper, his velocity needs to go up a mile or two and he needs to locate.

"We need to play defense behind him because people are putting the bat on the ball because the ball isn't coming in as quick. But he was definitely better (in a bullpen session) yesterday. Is he at full strength yet? No, but I'd say he's better."

Alabama plans to start Brandon Belcher (4-0, 4.39 ERA) on Sunday. Belcher earned a start two weeks ago against Ole Miss and threw a complete game in that outing.

"Sunday has been up and down with various and sundry starters, but we have guys who can come out of the pen if it's a winnable game and give us a chance," Wells said.

South Carolina has not determined who will pitch when Saturday and Sunday, but will use right handers Zack McCarnie (7-2, 2.18 ERA) and Jason Fletcher (4-2, 2.50 ERA) in the final two games of the series.

Senior Gabe Scott enters the series with a 26-game hitting streak and as one of the hottest hitters in the Southeastern Conference with a .416 batting average (42-for-101). Scott's streak is also the second-longest in the SEC this season behind Ole Miss' Brian Pettway's 27-game hitting streak.

"Scott is everything you want as a player," Wells said. "He works hard every day and is serious about what he does. He's a good teammate. He's confident at the plate, and you have to have a guy or two like that who's been around the block and can help your club. He's more than a player – he's almost as old as some of my coaches. He's a good guy to have around."

Tickets for the series remain available and go on sale at the ticket windows outside the stadium beginning two hours prior to each game.

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