Tide Baseball Goes To Vanderbilt

The University of Alabama baseball team is back on the road this weekend for a pivotal Southeastern Conference series against the No. 28 Vanderbilt Commodores at Hawkins Field on the VU campus.

The series opener is Friday at 6 p.m. CDT. The teams will also play Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.

Alabama, Vanderbilt, Auburn and South Carolina are in a log-jam in the SEC standings entering the weekend. The Commodores have won their last two series with Florida and Arkansas to pull even at 7-7 in the league. The third game of the Vanderbilt-Arkansas series was canceled last Sunday due to weather. The Crimson Tide, Tigers and Gamecocks all own 7-8 records. Ironically, all four teams are in action against another this weekend as Alabama visits Vanderbilt and Auburn travels to South Carolina.

"We need to get control of the things we are doing and play better on the road," Alabama Coach Jim Wells said on Thursday.

Alabama opened its five-game road trip with a 14-13 loss in 10 innings at Samford on Wednesday night in Birmingham. The Tide pitching staff allowed a season-high 14 runs and 20 hits in the game. Alabama's 13 runs scored were the most in a loss since a 14-13 setback to Clemson on June 4, 1996 in a College World Series elimination game.

"That was a tough one," Wells said of the Wednesday loss. "We continue to score a lot of runs and hit the ball well up and down the lineup. We are still struggling to get someone out of the bullpen to follow up a good start, which we usually get on the weekends. I like Jake Smith and he will help us, maybe not Friday (threw 54 pitches on Wednesday), but certainly Saturday and Sunday."

Alabama's rotation will consist of senior right-hander Austin Hyatt (8 GS, 5-1, 3.09 ERA), junior left-hander Del Howell (5 GS, 4-1, 4.0) and junior right-hander Adam Scott (8 G, 3 GS, 1-1, 4.70 ERA). The trio of starters are a combined 10-3 on the mound this season.

Vanderbilt (23-13, 7-7 SEC) will counter with left-hander Mike Minor (8 GS, 3-3, 3.02 ERA) and right-hander Caleb Cotham (8 GS, 5-3, 4.09 ERA). Another right-hander Sonny Gray (13 G, 3-0, 2.11 ERA) is penciled in for his first start of the season on Sunday, but with 13 relief appearances he could see action out of the pen in the first two games.

Alabama junior third baseman Jake Smith (.387, 13 HR, 35 RBI) is having a career year for the Crimson Tide. The Shannon native has hit a career-best 13 home runs this season. Against Samford on Wednesday, Smith became the sixth player in Alabama history and second this season to hit for the cycle. Smith stroked a solo home run in the second inning, singled in the fifth, doubled in seventh and tripled in the eighth. The last player to hit for the cycle was Kent Matthes against Nicholls State on Feb. 24.

The last time Alabama had two cycles in the same season was 1999 when Darren Wood (vs. Southern Miss) and Andy Phillips (vs. Kansas State) turned the trick 14 days apart.

Junior Brandon May (.346, 7 HR, 40 RBI) enters the Vanderbilt series with a 12-game hitting streak and seven-game RBI streak, both career highs. During his current streak, May is hitting .446 (21-for-47) with 14 runs scored, five doubles, four home runs and 18 RBI. He also has 13 RBI during his seven-game RBI streak. His previous best was an 11-game hitting streak from May 10-31, 2008 and a five-game RBI streak from May 16-23, 2008.

Junior Clay Jones (.360, 5 HR, 32 RBI) has seven hits and six RBI in his last two games. Over his last 11 games, Jones is hitting .529 (18-for-34) with nine runs scored, two home runs and 13 RBI. Senior Kent Matthes (.394, 20 HR, 58 RBI) leads the nation in home runs, home runs per game, total bases and slugging percentage and ranks second nationally in RBI. He has more home runs than 95 Division-I schools and has only four fewer home runs than the entire Vanderbilt (24 HRs) roster.

Sophomore Ross Wilson (.343, 8 HR, 3 RBI) will play his 100th career game in the series opener on Friday.

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