It's About Confidence

Confidence. When we consider elite, major-college athletes, we might assume they're filled to the brim with this fleeting, intangible ingredient. The truth is, there's a flux to confidence. It ebbs and wanes, washes over and dries up, comes and goes.

Take the Alabama baseball team and its confidence factor. Way up after opening the conference season at 5-1, down after being swept at Arkansas, back up after winning its final five games and tying for the SEC championship.

The Crimson Tide rode this crest into Hoover and into the postseason.

Then they ran into, drum roll, please: Clay Dirks. And their momentum came to a screeching halt.

Say what?

Yes, the soft-tossing LSU left-hander, working both sides of the plate like a maestro (and getting a few generous corners), handcuffed the Tide to two hits through seven innings on Wednesday.

This was not the same Clay Dirks who ranked 10th – FROM THE BOTTOM – in SEC earned run average (4.93) among qualifiers. Not the same Dirks who had given up 99 hits in 80 1/3 innings.

Pinch hitter Kent Matthes stroked a two-run homer off the crafty – yeah, crafty on this occasion – left-hander to save some face, but Alabama dove promptly into the loser's bracket.

Which brings us back around to the matter of confidence. For a while there on Thursday, as Wade LeBlanc was carving the Hogs up, you wondered if Alabama would ever score off right-hander Daryl Maday, who entered the game with all of 37 innings under his belt.

Matthes, whose homer propelled him into the starting lineup in right field for Ryan Rhoden, got down 0-and-2 on Maday leading off the seventh, then worked the count to 2-and-2 before lacing a single up the middle. That marked the end of the day for Maday, and the Tide fared much better against relief ace Devin Collis, who threw well against Alabama during the series sweep in Fayetteville.

Brandon Belcher singled Matthes around to third after failing to get a bunt attempt down, then a series of infield plays – Greg Paiml's smash to third and a sequence of bunts and squeeze plays – led to four runs. It wasn't the standard array of run-scoring plays, but it did engender something Alabama desperately needed – some postseason confidence.

I won't bore you with a full rundown of the numbers, but the postseason stats for Alabama's hitters aren't just poor, they're atrocious. There's Kody Valverde's 0-for, and a few 1-fors and pretty much a teamful of batting averages under the Mendoza line.

Belcher and Matthes are the exceptions, with good numbers in limited at-bats.

I was of the impression that Alabama had secured a national seed and home-field through the NCAA super regionals before the SEC Tournament. Thursday's win over Arkansas leadpipe cinched it in my view.

But just because they're at home doesn't mean a berth in Omaha is automatic for Jim Wells' Tide. We have the recent history of 2002 to prove that.

Alabama has Tommy Hunter on the hill tonight against pitching-depleted LSU, so a handful of runs should be enough to knock the Tigers out of the tournament. Wells couldn't ask for a better tonic heading into the NCAAs than for his bats to wake up, starting today.

It's all about the confidence.

Ed. Note:Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for Mobile Register. He writes a weekly column for BamaMag.com.


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