Tide Baseball Closes At Champion Georgia
Georgia (34-17-1, 19-7-1 SEC) clinched the 2008 SEC Championship with a 12-10 win over Vanderbilt last Sunday in Nashville. The Bulldogs are the only SEC team assured of an SEC Tournament berth next week, May 21-25, at Regions Park in Hoover.
Alabama (30-23, 14-13 SEC) is in a four-way tie for fourth place with Florida, Kentucky and Ole Miss in the SEC. Alabama is coming off an incredible series win over Florida last weekend in Tuscaloosa, where the Crimson Tide posted two improbable walk-off wins. Sophomore Del Howell stroked a pinch-hit, two run double in the bottom of the ninth to give the Tide a 7-6 win in the series opener. In the series finale, junior Jeff Texada scored from second base on senior Matt Bentley's long fly ball to right field to give the Tide an 8-7 win. Alabama trailed 7-2 with two outs in the eighth inning before scoring five runs to tie the game. Junior Kent Matthes hit a three-run home run and junior Tyler Odle tied the game with a two-run double.
Alabama has won its last four SEC series against Mississippi State, Auburn, Arkansas and Florida. Since March 22, Alabama has posted the third-best record in the SEC with a 14-9 (.609) ledger in its last 23 conference games.
This will mark the first time since 1989 that the Tide has played the regular-season champion on the final weekend of the season. The Crimson Tide closed the 1989 season at league champion Mississippi State and won two of three games from the top-ranked Bulldogs. Alabama was also involved in the SEC Championship race in 1996, 1997, 2002 and 2006, heading into the final weekend. The Tide swept Auburn to claim a share of the 1996 SEC Championship and lost to LSU on the day of the 1997 season, giving the Tigers the outright league title. In 2002, Alabama was swept in the final regular-season series at LSU to give South Carolina the SEC Championship. In 2006, Alabama swept Tennessee in Knoxville on the last weekend of the regular season and Georgia won two of three from Kentucky in Athens, as the Tide and Wildcats shared the regular season crown. Since 1995, Alabama has split the 14 regular season series with the SEC Champion. The Tide has lost its last six regular season series with the conference champion.
Georgia holds a slim 61-59-1 (.508) lead in a series that dates back to the 1904 season. Since the two teams began meeting on an annual basis in 1986, Alabama holds a 33-28 (.541) edge. The Crimson Tide has won the last three series with the Bulldogs, taking two of three games in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Alabama claimed the series win last year in Tuscaloosa, despite dropping the series opener. In its last trip to Athens, Alabama won the first two games before falling the series finale. It was UA's first series win at Foley Field since 1998.
Alabama Coach Jim Wells is 24-13 (.649) in his career against the Georgia Bulldogs. He has led the Crimson Tide to nine series wins in his 12 meetings with the Bulldogs. Alabama and Georgia did not meet in Wells' first season at The Capstone, but have met every year since 1996. In fact, Georgia is the only Eastern Division team that Alabama has faced in each of the last 13 seasons. The Tide and Bulldogs are not scheduled to play in 2010-11 under the SEC's current rotating schedule.
The race for the 2008 SEC Tournament is headed down the home stretch as the regular season closes this weekend and key games will decide the eight-team tournament field. Georgia is the only team to have clinched a tournament berth heading into the final weekend. Mississippi State (7-20) is the only team eliminated from post-season contention. The remaining 10 teams, including Alabama, are battling for the final seven spots. Alabama is currently in a four-way tie for fourth place with Florida, Kentucky and Ole Miss. All four teams are 14-13 in league play with three games remaining. A total of nine teams could finish with 15 conference wins this season.
Alabama is the only team in league history to win 15 conference games and not make the SEC Tournament. The Crimson Tide tied Auburn for eighth place with a 15-15 overall record in 2001, but lost the tie-breaker to the Tigers and did not make the field. Basically, Alabama, Arkansas (13-13), Florida, Kentucky, LSU (15-11-1), Ole Miss, South Carolina (13-14) and Vanderbilt (15-11) are playing for the last seven spots.
Auburn (11-16) and Tennessee (11-16) are mathematically alive, but would need series sweeps over LSU and South Carolina, plus some other good fortune to make the field. Alabama and Vanderbilt played the most difficult SEC schedule over the last two weeks. The Crimson Tide took two of three from No. 22 Florida last weekend and closes the year at No. 8 Georgia this weekend. Vanderbilt hosted Georgia last week and plays at Florida this weekend.
LSU and Arkansas have played the easiest schedules over the final two weekends. The Tigers swept Mississippi State last weekend in Baton Rouge and close the year at Auburn. Arkansas swept South Carolina at home and wraps up the season at Mississippi State.
Two of the league's hottest teams square of this weekend in Athens. The Crimson Tide started the season with an 0-4 SEC record, but since March 22 has gone 14-9 (.609) in its last 23 games to move into second place in the SEC Western Division and fourth place in the overall standings. The Crimson Tide's 14-9 record is the third-best in the league since March 22. The best record over the last 23 conference games belongs to SEC Champion Georgia. The Bulldogs are 15-7-1 since March 23 and secured their sixth SEC championship last weekend in Nashville. LSU, which has won its last nine SEC games, has the second-best record over the last 23 games with a 14-8-1 (.630) ledger. The Crimson Tide's 14-9 record is just 1 1/2 games behind Georgia and one-half game behind LSU since March 22.
In its last 23 SEC games, Alabama is hitting .304 (251 for 827) with 35 home runs and 144 RBI. The Tide averages seven runs and 10.9 hits per game. Freshman shortstop Josh Rutledge is the leading hitter with .430 (43 for 100) batting average with 22 runs and 10 RBI. Sophomore left fielder Brandon May is hitting .344 (32 for 93) over the last 23 SEC games, with five home runs and 13 RBI. Rutledge, May and junior Alex Avila have scored 66 of the 162 runs since March 22.
The Alabama pitching staff has compiled a 5.29 ERA with five saves over the last 23 SEC games. The UA starters are 4-7 (.364) with a 6.66 ERA in the last 23 conference games.
The bullpen has played a huge role in the Tide's recent success. UA relievers are 10-2 with five saves and 2.87 ERA since March 21. Senior left-hander Will Stroup (12 G, 3-1, 2.30 ERA), freshman Jimmy Nelson (3 G, 1-0, 2.25 ERA), senior right-hander Josh Copeland (13 G, 3-0, 2.84 ERA, 3 SV) and sophomore right-hander Austin Graham (9 G, 3-0, 3.72 ERA, 2 SV) have had the majority of the work. The four relievers a combined 10-2 with five saves and 2.71 ERA. They have worked 73 innings and allowed 28 runs (22 ER) and 68 hits, with 72 strikeouts and 33 walks. On defense, Alabama has made only 30 errors (.966) in those 23 SEC games and turned 19 double plays.
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