Alabama will start Wade LeBlanc (10-0, 2.72 ERA), its number one pitcher, against Jacksonville State's Donovan Hand Friday night.
"I think we're ready to go and we're focused," LeBlanc said. "Everyone says it all starts on the mound and I believe that. I feel if I go out and do my job it will set the tone."
The thought of Alabama going with its less-than-number-one guy was kicked around briefly, but that's what the history lesson was for. That tact was tried on '02, when Bama was a No. 3 national seed, and didn't work out.
Facing a first-round match-up with Southeast Missouri State in '02, Bama started Shane Sanders instead of Lance Cormier. Auburn squeaked into the NCAA tournament and was set to face Florida Atlantic in the other game in Tuscaloosa, and the pre-regional talk in centered around a potential Alabama-Auburn showdown on the second day if Alabama took care of business against SEMO and Auburn pulled a slight upset.
The lesson turned into one of gambling and losing, however. Alabama and Auburn had their Saturday match-up, but it was in the loser-go-home game early on Saturday instead of the winner's bracket game. Bama made it back to eliminate FAU, but SEMO won the regional.
Jacksonville State Coach Jim Case's run-down of his starter, Hand, sounded like a poor man's LeBlanc. Hand is a righty who works both sides of the plate well, and the best pitch is his change-up, Case said.
Alabama hitter's hadn't had any scout on Hand as of Thursday, perhaps providing a little motivational material for the JSU sophomore.
"I don't know anything about the guy," Tide center fielder Emeel Salem said. "You just told me his name. To be honest, I didn't know his name until you just said it. We'll get a scouting report tomorrow before the game, but you can't over-analyze it, you just have to play."
Matt Downs said, "I think he's a righty and that's all we know about him."
Hand (9-4, 2.58 ERA) pitched 97 and two third innings and struck out 88 batters. He gave up 101 hits and 31 walks in 15 starts. Case said Jax State's upsurge over the past month and a half coincided with Hand pitching well.
Alabama must attempt to break out of its post-season hitting woes at some point. The Tide hit .197 as a team in the Southeastern Conference Tournament almost 100 points below its season total of .291.
"I feel comfortable that we're going to need to hit, and I feel comfortable that we will," Tide head Coach Jim Wells said. "Right now it's just ‘Win the game.' You can't avoid needing a timely hit. We need to draw upon all of the things that we accomplished all year. I'm a big believer in, ‘You've done it before, you can do it again.'"