Super Series Set to Start

Talk about bringing attention to college baseball – it's reaching a crescendo this week in Tuscaloosa, as Alabama prepares to host North Carolina in an NCAA Super Regional series at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. This comes amid talk of Tide Coach Jim Wells' candidacy for another job and the presence of three soon-to-be wealthy Major League Amateur Draft choices between the two squads.

Play begins Friday at 6 p.m. For the first time all year, the games will be televised by the nation's most popular sports network, ESPN. The winner of the three-game series will go to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.

"We're excited to be in a Super Regional. We haven't been in one since 1999," Wells said.

Alabama's Southeastern Conference rival LSU entered the conversation this week, as Bama's coach is considered as a top candidate for the job recently opened by the firing of Smoke Laval. Wells, who is a Louisiana native and was an assistant coach at LSU under its current athletics director Skip Bertman, has said he's focusing on the task at hand of baseball.

Alabama AD Mal Moore Thursday said that he understands why Wells is a top candidate – because he is very good. Moore says he wants to be the first to discuss the future with Wells after Alabama's season is over. Another candidate for solicitation of the LSU job is Mike Bianco, who is currently coaching his team in a Super Regional against Miami this weekend.

Alabama's ace pitcher Wade LeBlanc (11-0, 2.62) is facing perhaps the toughest challenge in opposing pitchers he's seen all year from UNC.

LeBlanc is a win away from equaling the Alabama record for a dozen wins and no losses in a season. Thirteen would set the record anew. LeBlanc hasn't relied on a great deal of run support all year, but that was different last weekend, as the Crimson Tide scored plenty of runs early en route to a 13-1 opening victory of Troy last Friday.

North Carolina will pitch Andrew Miller (12-2, 2.26 ERA), the sixth overall pick of the Major League Draft by the Detroit Tigers. LeBlanc was a second-round pick of the San Diego Padres.

The anticipated formula for the game calls for LeBlanc to keep the Carolina hits and runs to a bare minimum (as in zero) while the Tide hitting lineup tries to push, pull or drag as many runs as possible across the plate against one of the nation's best pitchers,

"We prepared well this week," Wells said, "about as well as you can for a guy who throws 96 mph with a good slider. We're ready to play. We did that last week and I feel like we'll do that this week."

Last week's stats – against less dominant pitching – was a breakout of sorts for the Alabama offense.

Senior catcher Kody Valverde (Baton Rouge) went 10-for-14 (.714) in the three games last weekend with one home run and eight RBI to earn Tuscaloosa Regional MVP honors.

"My approach this weekend is to shorten my swing a little bit," he said. "They are obviously good pitchers. Andrew Miller doesn't give up many extra base hits so you have to work the count and if you get your pitch you can't miss it."

In addition to Friday's game airing on ESPN, the Saturday game, set for a 6 p.m. start, is scheduled to be carried live on ESPN2 and the Sunday game, if necessary, will be back on ESPN at 3 p.m.


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