Tide Baseball Begins NCAA Play Friday
Alabama (34-26) is the No. 3 seed at this year's Conway Regional and will square off with No. 2 East Carolina (40-19) in game two Friday night at 7 p.m. (EDT). No. 1 seed Coastal Carolina (47-12) will face No. 4 seed Columbia (22-28) in game one at 1 p.m. (EDT) at Charles Watson Stadium.
"I agree with all the other coaches," Alabama Coach Jim Wells said. "I think any of the teams can win the regional. East Carolina is a real good team and they play against some really good teams. Coastal (Carolina) is a proven program but when you're the host, there's a little more pressure. There sure is. Everybody is there to see you play. It's a good field."
Junior catcher Alex Avila, who leads Alabama with 16 home runs and 61 RBI, is excited to be playing in this year's tournament after the Tide's one-year absence.
"We're just excited to get out here and start playing," Avila said. "We're eager to back on the field. Everyone's pretty excited. Hopefully, we'll swing the bats this weekend."
Alabama, East Carolina and Coastal Carolina all rank among the nation's Top 30 teams in home runs this season and the trio has combined to hit 245 home runs this season. Columbia has hit only 24 home runs in 2008. The lofty home run numbers fit the compact Watson Stadium, whose measurements are 320 feet down the lines and 390 feet to dead center field.
The home standing Chanticleers have hit 79 of their 88 home runs at Watson Stadium this season.
The Crimson Tide will send junior right hander Austin Hyatt (4-4, 4.64 ERA) to the mound in the tournament opener. In his last start, Hyatt held the 2008 SEC Champion Georgia Bulldogs to two runs and four hits in his second complete game of the season.
"Austin has to do what he has done all year," Wells said. "He keeps the ball down. He is a fastball, change-up guy, with an occasional breaking ball. He was one of our returning pitchers from last year and I thought he would be a good pitcher this season."
Hyatt has pitched well the last four weeks for Alabama, posting a 2-1 record and 3.12 ERA in his last four starts. His outing at the SEC Tournament was just his second career complete game. He hopes to build on that Friday against the Pirates.
"Of course it helps build your confidence," Hyatt said. "It builds confidence and I want to keep rolling and keep throwing well."
The double elimination tournament continues with two games on Saturday and Sunday.
CONWAY REGIONAL NOTEBOOK:
*Alabama left Tuscaloosa via charter plane on Thursday morning and made the 1:15 flight to Myrtle Beach, S.C. The team is staying at the Caravelle Beach Resort, located on Ocean Blvd. in Myrtle Beach. After practice on Thursday the team spent some time on the beach and many ventured out into the Atlantic Ocean.
*All four teams practiced for 75 minutes under NCAA mandate at Charles Watson Stadium/Voorman Field on the Coastal Carolina campus. The Crimson Tide worked on defense, took batting practice and wrapped up the session with base running drills.
*Coach Jim Wells, junior catcher/DH Alex Avila and junior RHP Austin Hyatt met with the media at the NCAA Conway Regional Media Day on Thursday.
*Alabama freshman shortstop Josh Rutledge (Cullman) and freshman second baseman Ross Wilson (Hoover) have played in high school tournaments in Myrtle Beach at Coastal Federal Field, the home of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Class A (Carolina League) affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.
*Alabama played 11 teams that made this year's NCAA Tournament field and posted a 15-15 record against those teams.
*The Southeastern Conference leads the way with nine teams in the NCAA Tournament, followed by the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 Conference with six each. The SEC also had nine teams in 2004 and 2005.
*There are 26 teams in this year's tournament that did not make the field in 2008. In addition, Dallas Baptist, UC Davis, Lipscomb and Mount St. Mary's are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. Dallas Baptist is the first independent team to earn an at-large bid since Cal State Northridge in 1992. Alabama beat both Dallas Baptist and Lipscomb this season.
*Columbia is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1976. Rider (29-26) and Eastern Michigan (25-32) are in the field for the first time since 1994. Eastern Michigan started the year with a 19-game losing streak, but closed the year with a 25-13 record in its last 38 games.
*The state of California has 10 teams in this year's tournament, followed by Texas (8), North Carolina (6) and Florida (4).
*The Crimson Tide is the lone representative from the state of Alabama, which has now had at least one team in the tourney every year since 1988.
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