Wells knows his team must improve quickly

More than most sports, baseball is a game of streaks--both hot and cold. For most of the season Alabama has been remarkably consistent, avoiding being swept even on difficult road trips to South Carolina and Georgia. But last weekend the odds caught up with the Tide. <br><br>"We're coming off a rough weekend at LSU, having been swept," said Tide Head Coach Jim Wells.

The Tide finished the regular season at 44-12, 20-10 in the SEC. Both are good records with the team capturing its tenth Western Division crown. "I'm proud of my team, because they played so well all year," Wells said. "I've never seen a club that you don't have at least one tough weekend. Ours just happened at the end against a good LSU team that's playing very well."

Generally speaking the Alabama pitching held up fairly well, but a poor hitting performance in which the Tide left scores of runners on base led to the losses. And coupled with a strong finish by South Carolina, the three-game losing streak doomed Bama's chances for an SEC regular-season conference title.

Alabama enters this week's conference tournament at the Hoover Met in Birmingham seeded second among eight teams, beginning its quest for the tournament crown against Mississippi State. The first pitch in that game is scheduled for 1 pm Wednesday.

"Pitching-wise we're in pretty good shape," Wells said. "Hitting-wise we're off a little bit. There's concern there. Unlike most clubs, we really haven't had a lull all year, but we're starting to have one now. And we've got to get out of it. We need to swing the bat better. We're going to work today and tomorrow and hopefully play well in the tournament."

The Crimson Tide has enjoyed much success in the SEC Tournament since 1995, winning four championships (1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999). "You're always concerned when you don't get the job done," Wells said. "But we've always bounced back. You have to be resilient in this league. For us to have won 20 games, they've shown their ability to come back."

With a 20-10 SEC record, the 2002 squad is the fourth team in school history to win 20 or more SEC games in a season. All of the previous 20-win SEC seasons have come in the Wells era (1996, 1997 and 1999). The 1999 team holds the school record with 21 SEC wins.

Alabama is 36-33 (.522) all-time in SEC post-season play, dating back to its first appearance in the 1950 SEC playoffs. Coach Jim Wells has posted an impressive 22-7 (.759) record at the SEC Tournament, including four post-season titles. Alabama won championships in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999 under Wellls. At the Hoover Met, the site of the 2002 SEC Tournament, Wells has led the Crimson Tide to a 14-5 (.737) ledger and two titles.

"All the clubs are good," Wells said. "Whether it's Mississippi State that swept or us who have been swept, they will be tough, hard-fought games. I'm just looking forward to getting in some good work the next two games and getting into a good frame of mind before we play Wednesday."

Alabama wrapped up its 10th SEC Western Division title with a three-game sweep of Miss. State (May 10-12) in Tuscaloosa. The sweep of the Bulldogs was the first by Alabama in 26 years, dating back to Coach Ron Polk's rookie season (1976) in his first tenure at MSU.

While Alabama was losing three straight at LSU, the Bulldogs were sweeping in-state rival Ole Miss in Starkville to earn their way into the tournament. "The adage used to be that you can't beat a team three times in a row, but we've shown that untrue on both ends of it," Wells said. "It makes it a little more difficult, but it's mainly how is a team playing right now? Obviously they had a great weekend and are playing with renewed confidence. I think all the teams will be ready to play Wednesday."

For most of the season Alabama has been ranked in the Top 10 nationally, and it's believed the Tide will likely host an NCAA regional. But Wells doesn't think anything is guaranteed. And he's also looking forward to Bama's chances at hosting a Super Regional. "We want to put ourselves in a position where if we play well in our regional we'll have a chance to be at home for the next one," he said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Barry Allen of UA Media Relations contributed to this report.

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