Tide Goes to Starkville for Three-Game Set

It's getting down to the nitty gritty in Southeastern Conference baseball action and 12th-ranked Alabama has its hands full in attempting to maintain sole possession of first place in the SEC West this weekend, going on the road for a three-game set against Mississippi State this weekend.

The Tide (33-14, 13-8 SEC) and Bulldogs (28-15, 9-11 SEC) face off at 6:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night at Polk-Dement Stadium, with a Sunday start time scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

Mississippi State will be fighting for its post-season life and trying to rebound from a sweep against Mississippi a week ago. The Bulldogs are tied with Auburn and Arkansas for 8th place overall in the league. Both Mississippi State and Alabama missed the eight-team league tournament field in 2004.

There will be glances around the SEC scoreboard by Bama fans. In the West, Alabama is a game ahead of LSU and Mississippi (both are 12-9 in the SEC). The Bengal Tigers are looking for nothing less than a sweep this weekend at home against Kentucky, the league's worst team, while Ole Miss will play a set at Auburn.

On the mound Friday night will be Mississippi State senior right hander Alan Johnson (2-5, 4.71 ERA) against Alabama's junior righty T.J. Large (6-3, 2.42 ERA). Large and Johnson have been battle-tested in 2005, combining for 22 starts on the season (Friday's starts will be Large's 13th , Johnson's 11th).

Alabama's Gabe Scott will enter the game with a league-best .412 batting average, but it will be the second week in a row that MSU has seen the SEC's best hitter. Last week's hitting leader, UM's Brian Pettway, was held to three hits on the weekend.

On Saturday Alabama will pitch Wade LeBlanc (3-3, 4.20 ERA) against Todd Doolittle (4-5, 4.32 ERA). Alabama has not announced a Sunday starter yet, but could see the return of Brandon Belcher to the lineup. Belcher as been out with a strained oblique muscle. If Belcher is not ready, Bama Head Coach Jim Wells could turn to Brent Carter, Jordan Davis or David Robertson, depending on how they are used in relief in the first two games. MSU will start Jon Crosby (5-2, 3.10 ERA) on Sunday.

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