Tide faces tough competition at Regional

The selection committee must have had a sense of humor when selecting its field of 64 for the NCAA Baseball Tournament, which begins Friday on campus sites throughout the nation.

The committee threw five SEC teams in one quadrant of the bracket -- where four regional tournaments exist -- including the possibility of SEC regular season champion South Carolina and SEC East runner-up Florida squaring off in a super regional.

Five of the SEC's top six teams are in that fourth of the bracket, which means only two of those five teams from the nation's second-toughest conference (according to the RPI) could reach the College World Series.

"It's unusual, but the NCAA is unusual," said Bama coach Jim Wells.

"I think [the selection committee] doesn't want the College World Series to be the SEC Tournament," said Bama centerfielder Scott McClanahan. "If they split us up right, there could be a lot of teams from the SEC in the CWS. There's obviously a lot of strength in our conference."

The Crimson Tide earned a national No. 3 seed after winning the conference tournament last weekend in Hoover, and is the top seeded team at their regional, which also includes the No. 2 seed Tigers, No. 3 Florida Atlantic and the Tide's first round opponent, No. 4 Southeast Missouri.

Wells said though he is unfamiliar with Southeast Missouri, he will get a scouting report on the Indians mainly through communication with other coaches whose teams have recently played them.

Left to right: Jeremy Brown, Lance Cormier and Brent Boyd. All season long Bama's seniors have led the way in the team's championship run.

"The only way you can get information on them is to get on the phone," Wells said. "Also, it's who will give you the information on them. Some coaches won't tell you or will give you misleading information.

"The stats will initially tell you a lot, but you need to do your homework a little bit. You don't want to go in there blind."

Wells said it would be easy for teams to get information on his team because the Crimson Tide has been exposed on television, especially during last week's SEC Tournament. It would be difficult, Wells said, to find tapes of smaller schools like Southeast Missouri.

The Indians (36-18) are not a very powerful team, but have six position players hitting over .300, led by Vern Hatton who is hitting at a .382 clip with seven home runs and 53 runs batted in.

Brad Purcell, who the Tide will likely see Friday night, is the team's ace. Purcell has compiled an 11-2 record and has thrown a team-high 103.1 innings, striking out 88.

"We have a pretty tough regional," said Bama catcher Jeremy Brown. "We'll have to play our best ball of the year to get out of it.

"This is the best conference in the country. These teams are here for a reason. But we'll be playing at home, which is a huge advantage for us."

Auburn (34-24) and Atlantic Sun Tournament runner-up Florida Atlantic (43-18) will square off at 1:30 p.m. Friday.

The Tigers were the SEC Tournament's fifth seed and were swept by Alabama in Tuscaloosa during the regular season. AU is led offensively by Bobby Huddleston, who is hitting .356 with 10 home runs and 46 RBIs.

FAU dropped its only meeting with Alabama this year, an 8-3 loss at a tournament in Minnesota at the beginning of the year. The Owls are a power hitting club that have four players with 10-plus home runs, led by Mike Cox with 17. Danny Core is the ace of the club with an 8-4 record and a 2.98 ERA.

2002 Tuscaloosa Regional Bracket

Friday, May 31, Game 1, 1:30 PM, No. 2 Auburn (34-24) vs. No. 3 Florida Atlantic (43-18)

                Game 2, 6:30 PM, No. 1 Alabama (48-13) vs. No. 4 SE Missouri St. (36-18)

Saturday, June 1, Game 3, 11 AM, Game 1 Loser vs. Game 2 Loser

                  Game 4, 3 PM,  Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner

                  Game 5, 7 PM,  Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Loser

Sunday, June 2, Game 6, 2 PM, Game 4 Winner vs. Game 5 Winner

                Game 7, ***,  If Necessary
 *** -- 45 minutes after the conclusion of Game 6.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Tickets for the three-day tournament are now on sale and may be purchased in tickets books through the Alabama Athletic Ticket Office in person or by calling (205) 348-2262. Ticket books are priced at $65 each for lower chairback seats, $55 for upper level grandstand and $50 for left field reserved bleachers. If available, individual game tickets will not be sold until Friday, May 31.

All fans are encouraged to purchase the Tuscaloosa Regional ticket books as soon as possible. Tickets will be available for pickup at the Athletic Ticket Office in Coleman Coliseum beginning Wednesday, May 29.

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