Bama-Auburn Baseball Preview

The sixth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (32-12 overall, 13-5 SEC) is two games clear of its closest competitor in the Southeastern Conference and three games ahead of its closest competitor in the Western Division, riding a six-game win streak into its weekend series with Auburn (21-23 overall, 8-10 SEC) at Sewell-Thomas Stadium beginning Friday night at 6:30 p.m.

"This certainly is a rivalry, but in all sports, not just baseball," Alabama Coach Jim Wells said. I learned that my first year here. It still comes down to the team that plays better between the white lines."

The Saturday game will start at 6 p.m. and Sunday's contest at 2 p.m. Ticket information can be obtained from the UA ticket office at 348-2262.

Even when things have gone wrong for the Alabama baseball team lately, everything has turned out okay. After an error-and-wild-pitch laden half innning against UAB, the Tide bats exploded to a nine run final two innings to preserve its win streak.

Auburn has had its struggles this year, but has won its last two SEC series, last weekend against Florida and two weeks ago against Mississippi State. Auburn has scored 18 runs in its last two Friday night outings, the typical spot in the rotation for the No. 1 pitcher.

"Auburn is playing their best right now," Wells said. "We have to continue to play at our best this weekend. We have to get our guys attention to let them know that Auburn is playing there best baseball of the season right now."

"This certainly is a rivalry, but in all sports, not just baseball. I learned that my first year here. It still comes down to the team that plays better between the white lines.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Brett Butts (3-5, 5.93 ERA) will try to win back-to-back starts for the first time on Friday against Alabama's Wade LeBlanc (7-0, 2.70). In his last two startes, Butts has surre a combined seven hearned runs in 9.1 innings.

LeBlanc, the Friday night starter, was sharper in the win against Vanderbilt last week than he had been in two weeks. His change-up worked better an dhis fastball was locating in the strike zone.

On the back of center fielder Emeel Salem, along with some other key hits, Alabama has emerged as the top hitting team in the SEC, with a .321 (201-for-627) average through 18 conference games. South Carolina ranks second with a .313 (204-for-651) average. Salem tied the Alabama single-game record with five hits in the Crimson Tide's 14-8 win at UAB on April 26.

He was 5-for-6 with four runs scored, one double, one triple and one RBI in the win. Salem is the first UA player to record five hits in a game since Morrow Thomley went 5-for-6 against Miami (Ohio) on March 12, 2005. S Salem is asserting himself as a player to watch for possible SEC Player of the Year honors with four weeks left in the season. Salem is 17-for-31 (.548) during the six-game streak with 11 run scored, two doubles, two triples and three RBIs. Salem is 6-for-6 (1.000) in the first inning in the last six games, with one double, one triple and four runs scored.

"Emeel Salem has had a great year," Wells said. "He is a great kid, too. He has really improved. He has gone from a guy that could catch and run, to a guy that catch and run and hit. He gets big hits, too. He has really become the complete player. He is the reason for the success that we have had this year. He leads by example and is one of the main keys to our success and our team."


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