The Tide now owns an 11 game winning streak over Florida, and has swept the Gators three series in a row. Florida came into the week-end with a team batting average of .386 - which led the SEC by 49 points - 63 home runs, and averaged almost 15 hits and 12 runs per game, but were shut down by Tide pitching which held the Gators to a total of eight runs (with just two home runs) in the three game set.
Lance Cormier won the opener 4-1 to get his twenty-eighth career win, a Bama record. Because of an injury to usual Saturday starter Josh Baker, little-used sophomore lefthander Jeff Norris (who appeared in only one game as a freshman, a one inning stint against Samford) got his first-ever SEC start and did well, holding Florida to two runs in 6 and 1/3 innings before giving way to reliever Brian Reed. Shane Sanders almost went the distance in the finale on Sunday, before being lifted with two outs in the ninth inning. Although Florida added three runs in the top of the ninth to rally from a 5-2 deficit, Bama got four straight one-out singles (from Beau Hearod, Brent Boyd, Allen Rice, and Travis Garner) in the bottom half of the inning to secure the win.
Alabama has traditionally been almost unbeatable at home under Coach Jim Wells. The Tide had the NCAA's best home field record for three straight seasons, going 36-3 in 1997, 30-3 in '98, and 37-4 in '99. This year's team is on pace to do even better, having won all 22 home games thus far. The 2001 team won its last four home contests, so the home win streak is at 26, a new school record.
There are 11 home games remaining in the regular season (and maybe one more, if an early season rainout is rescheduled), plus the possibility of an NCAA regional and/or super-regional coming to Sewell-Thomas Stadium if the Tide continues to ride high in the polls. Bama hosted regional tournaments in '96, '97, and '99, in addition to a super regional in '99, and went 13-0 in the games.
Pitching continues to be the strongest part of the team, with the pitching staff's ERA of 3.07 leading the SEC by a wide margin. Alabama also has the most saves in the conference, with 13, and is third best in the number of strikeouts.
Cormier leads the league in ERA, with a minuscule 1.36. Freshman lefty Taylor Tankersly is seventh in the SEC in this category with 2.62, while Sanders checks in with a 3.06 for ninth place. Cormier also has the most innings pitched with 72 and 2/3, is tied for first in wins (8), and is tied for fifth in strikeouts (55).
Reed, a hard-throwing junior college transfer, is tied for first in the SEC in appearances by a pitcher (17), tied for second in saves (6), and has finished more games (14) than any other SEC pitcher. Tankersley has held opposing batters to a .221 batting average, good for fourth in the league.
Alabama is currently batting .311, which ties for fifth best in the conference; Florida's .377 still leads by a wide margin. While the Tide still doesn't have the power of most recent teams, the home run production is getting better and the team total of 38 in this category is good for a third place tie in the SEC although well behind Florida's 65 and South Carolina's 53.
The only batting category in which Bama leads the SEC continues to be the unsought-after one of most times grounded into double plays -- the Tide's 33 is unfortunately far ahead in the league; this was a killer in the 2-1 series loss to South Carolina, as Bama hit into eight double plays against the Gamecocks.
In individual offensive statistics, sophomore right fielder Peter Stonard is batting .398, good for seventh in the SEC (although a tough series against Florida dropped his average from .442); his four sacrifice flies have him tied for fourth in that category. Senior catcher Jeremy Brown has 42 RBI, good for second in the conference, and has the fourth highest slugging percentage (.679), the seventh best on-base percentage (.465), and is tied for third in home runs (10), and fourth in walks (26). Senior center fielder Scott McClanahan is tied for fourth in the league in doubles (with 12), and tied for second in triples (3).
The team's fielding percentage of .958 is good for only ninth best in the SEC, although this is an area that seems to have improved in recent games. Brent Boyd (second base), Allen Rice (third base), and Adam Pavkovich (shortstop) all had several plays in the Florida series which robbed Gator batters of base hits.
Rice, a freshman, got off to a rough start but has raised his batting average from about .170 to over .250 in recent games, while providing the best defense at his position that Tide teams have had in several years.
A few other statistics that are often overlooked have also helped the defense: Tide catchers have allowed an SEC low in passed balls (2), Bama pitchers lead the league in fewest wild pitches (13), and the pitching staff has the second fewest walks in the conference.
Injuries to Baker (tendinitis in his rotator cuff) and shortstop/third baseman Carlos Sosa (Achilles tendon) have been a problem, but the rest of the team has managed to avoid injuries serious enough to force players to miss games. Baker hopefully will be back soon, and while Coach Wells had really counted on Sosa both in the field and at bat, his absence has allowed Pavkovich to surprisingly assert himself. He has gained confidence in the field and has become one of the best clutch hitters on the team -- after no home runs last season as a freshman, he has even provided some power, with four home runs in recent games.
Cormier, Brown, and Boyd are all chasing several school career records.. Cormier, as noted earlier, already has the most career wins and innings pitched. He is closing in on most other pitching records, including appearances (his 79 is second behind Jon Blankenship's 81), strikeouts (third with 259, behind Mike Sodders' 274), saves (tied for third with 11, behind the 14 of Ben Short), and games started (seventh with 34, behind 52 by Sodders).
Brown and Boyd are currently in the top 10 in most career categories for position players.
GAMES PLAYED: 1. Andy Phillips (244); 2. Joe Caruso (242); 3. Brown (218); 4. Brett Taft (216); 5. Boyd (214).
AT BATS: 1. Phillips (904); 2. Caruso (900); 3. Boyd (856); 4. Brown (800).
RUNS: 1. Phillips (222); Brown (218); 3. G.W. Keller (214); 4. Boyd (210).
HITS: 1. Phillips (322); 2. Caruso (309); 3. Keller (292); Boyd (283); 5. Brown (272).
DOUBLES: David Magadan (64); 2. Phillips (63); 3. Caruso (58); 4. Sam Bozanich (56); 5. Boyd (55); 6. Ted McClendon (52); 7. Brown (48).
HOME RUNS: 1. Phillips (61); 2. Keller and Doug Duke (50 each); 4. Dustan Mohr (47); 5. Brown (45); Boyd tied for ninth with 32.
RBI: 1. Phillips (226); 2. Brown (208); Boyd, 168 for an eighth-place tie.
TOTAL BASES: 1. Phillips (590); 2. Keller (510); 3. Caruso (498); 4. Brown (461); 5. Boyd (442).
BASES ON BALLS: 1. Brown (164); 6. Boyd (94).
Alabama's 9-3 conference record leads both the Western Division and the SEC as a whole. Ole Miss is close at 8-4, while Mississippi State (6-5), Auburn (6-6), LSU (5-6), and Arkansas (4-5) still look pretty good. Georgia leads the East at 8-4, with South Carolina (6-5) and Florida (6-6) also looking strong. Tennessee (4-8), Vanderbilt (3-7), and Kentucky (3-9) have been struggling.
After playing South Carolina and Florida -- which were both ranked in the top five at the time -- Alabama visits Kentucky this week-end for what, at least on paper, should be an easier series.
Other key match-ups include Auburn at Ole Miss, Arkansas at Mississippi State, and Georgia at LSU. The weekend of April 19-21 has Bama hosting Ole Miss in what could be a pivotal series, in addition to critical meetings between Mississippi State at Auburn and LSU at South Carolina.