Win and You're In

There's no use in ignoring the elephant in the room. Yes, Alabama's regular season finale with Auburn at Plainsman Park is for in-state bragging rights, but this year the series might also play a factor in who makes the Southeastern Conference Tournament (for both Alabama and Auburn), who wins the SEC West (for Alabama), who hosts an NCAA Regional (for Alabama) and who doesn't even make it to an NCAA Regional (for Auburn).

No. 14 Alabama enters the game 35-18 overall and 15-12 in the SEC. The Tide needs one win out of the three games this weekend to cinch a spot on the eight-team conference tournament in Hoover next week. Auburn is 31-22, 12-15 in the league, and needs to win and get help to make the conference tournament.

It's possible - some might say probable - that Auburn will be one of 10 SEC teams to get an NCAA Regional bid even if the Tigers miss the tournament, but beating Alabama at home would obviously helps their case greatly.

All year Alabama Head Coach Jim Wells avoided talking to his team about the potential stakes of a particular game or series, but this week he has addressed the elephant in the room.

"We have taken that attitude (of not talking about a game's or series' implications) all year, but this week we have gone more toward the lines of just letting them know how (NCAA) Regionals work,how those are chosen, what are the possibilies, what has to be done - which is always to win. We kind of went more in-depth and talked to more than just 'Let's go out and play our game.'"

Sophomore lefty Wade LeBlanc (4-3, 3.94 ERA) will be making his 11th start on the mound for Alabama.

For Auburn, Arnold Hughey will make his league-leading 16th start. Hughey is 6-4 with a 3.80 ERA. He defeated Alabama a year ago pitching a complete game came allowing on run on seven hits in a 7-1 Auburn victory.

Last week against Arkansas LeBlanc had arguably his best start since returning from an early-season injury, pitching six and two thirds innings allowing three runs on six hits and three walks. He did not pick up a decision after that outing as Arkansas made a ninth-inning comeback to win the game after LeBlanc left.

T.J. Large will not pitch on Friday or Saturday for the second week in a row. Large allowed one hit, but walked two batters and hit one in two and a third innings of work (51 pitches).

"His status is probably going to be about the same as last week," Wells said. He will probably be the Sunday starter if things play out like they did last week."

Saturday Starter Brandon Belcher picked up Alabama's lone win against Arkansas last weekend, and Wells said Belcher's pitching in the past week was as good as he has been.

"That was really encouraging, it was certainly the highlight of last weekend and you hope that he keeps going on," Wells said. "I was really fired up about that and he's coming on at the right time. We need everyone to pitch as well as he did last Saturday."

Belcher missed four weeks earlier in the year with a strained oblique muscle, returning two weeks ago against Mississippi State.

Freshman relief pitcher David Robertson had a slight ankle sprain that hurt his control and ability to move around on the field last weekend, but Wells said Robertson should be ready to go against Auburn.

While the Tide pitching has held up despite injuries or fatigue to four of Bama's best hurlers, the bats have been dead as of late.

Alabama managed just 17 hits in the three-game series against Arkansas, batting .185 as a team in the series, and the Tide has scored five runs our less in nine of their last 10 SEC games.

Wells said there are no major changes to his lineup or batting order planned, but that "some other guys have a shot to get in there, (Michael) McCallister and (Matt) Grooms. And anybody that gets an opportunity and does well will stay in there."

"We don't have a lot of flexibility we do have some fresh faces we can stick in there," he said.

Wells said he thinks Alabama must win the series and do something in the SEC tournament to have a shot to host an NCAA Regional in Tuscaloosa. "We have to win," he said. "How many you have to win? Well, the more you win the better situation you're in. We certainly have to win two.

"You have to do well in the tournament. It's pretty simple, we need to win a lot more than we lose from here on out and that's basically it. Certainly, if you just win one, I don't think that's good. If you win two that puts you in a better position and if you win more than that it enhances it more."


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