It's Tourney Time

Call it whatever you want: Hoover Magic, good fortune or home-crowd advantage, but the Alabama baseball team will need a lot of it when it opens play in the Southeastern Conference Tournament at the Hoover Met.

Alabama (37-19) will face a talented and hot Mississippi squad (40-16) at 8 p.m. Wednesday evening at the Hoover Met.

"The pressure's off as far as making it to the post season," senior outfielder Gabe Scott said. "Now you're fighting to host (an NCAA) Regional. In order to get that Regional you're going to have to play well in the tournament, especially in our situation.

"It's going to be between us and Ole Miss and the fact that we play them in the first game is huge."

Conventional thought is that LSU, Florida and Tennessee are locks to host an NCAA Regional, and that a fourth – perhaps a fifth - team from the SEC will also be selected to host. Mississippi finished a game ahead of Alabama in the regular season

"I thought they had the most talent of any SEC team we played. We were fortunate to win two out of three up there (Apr. 8-10)," Alabama Head Coach Jim Wells said Tuesday. Wells said that Ole Miss first baseman/pitcher Stephen Head "is probably the best player in the league the last two years."

Mississippi is 11-4 in its last 15 games after an 8-7 mark in the first half of league play. The Rebels finished a game better than the Tide in the SEC regular season with an 18-12 mark.

The Rebels will start their ace Mark Holliman (6-3, 4.35 ERA). Alabama will its own staff ace, Wade LeBlanc (4-4, 4.06 ERA).

While the Rebels have been hot as of late, the Tide has Hoover Met Mojo on its side. Alabama has a 30-8 record in the tournament in the Wells era and has won the tournament in six of the eight years they have been in it.

"There's a lot of factors. We've had the best team in it on occasion, we've had a hot teams on occasion," Wells said. "Certainly the crowd there is pro-Alabama. It's not far from home."

"It's not a home field advantage, but we certainly have more than anybody else there. Obviously we've played well when we've been there and that will have to be the case again."

In fact, the best way to make sure Alabama didn't win the tournament over the past several years was keep the Tide out of the eight-team field, as happened in 2001 and last season.

Current Crimson Tide players know the recent history of Alabama in the SEC Tournament, and their confidence is growing.

"I went to the tournament every year. I didn't miss many games," said Alabama sophomore second baseman Greg Paiml, who lived a three-minute walk away from the Hoover Met. "I just remember how big it was and how much I always wanted to play in it. Now, here I am."

Paiml, the lightest-hitting Tide regular player, came up with three huge RBI on Sunday, helping Alabama to a series win over Auburn and was a part of an insurgence of hitting at the bottom of the Tide lineup in the series.

The bottom three hitters, catcher Kody Valverde, shortstop Cale Iorg and Paiml, went 7-for-12 with four runs scored, one home run, eight RBI and three sac bunts against the Tigers on Sunday.

"We're still pulling the ball, but Paiml did a better job of inside-outing the ball down the line (in the seventh inning against Auburn) and there have been some better approaches," Wells said. "Our goal is to pitch, defend and hit at the same time. We're waiting to do that. We're hoping maybe the 57th game is the key."

The winner of Wednesday night's game will play again on Thursday night at 8 p.m. while the loser will play at 1 p.m. Thursday. Thursday's game will be either against No. 8 seed Arkansas or the SEC Champ Florida.

"I've been to all the championship games. Hopefully we can keep the tradition going," Paiml said. "We don't have as much pressure as the past few weeks but I feel like the pressure is still on a little bit. We'll play much better because it's in Birmingham and there are a lot of Bama fans."

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