Strong Candidate For Player Of Week

Each week the Southeastern Conference selects various athletes for recognition. In baseball, the conference office takes the recommendations of each school for both player of the week and pitcher of the week. It will be tough for anyone other than Alabama third baseman Jake Smith to win this week's SEC player honor.

Jake Smith, a junior third baseman and relief pitcher from Shannon, led Alabama to a 5-1 record last week, including a three-game sweep of 28th-ranked Vanderbilt in Nashville. The sweep was Bama's second in SEC play this year and the first on the road since 2006.

Alabama improved its record to 27-13 overall and 10-8 in SEC play.

This week Alabama plays at South Alabama at 6 p.m. CDT Wednesday, then hosts Kentucky for a weekend series, games at 6:30 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Last week Smith batted .444 as he had eight hits in 18 at-bats. He scored seven runs and had seven extra base hits as he started four games. He had four doubles, a triple, and two home runs. He drove in four runs and had a 1.111 slugging percentage and .450 on-base percentage.

He began his big week by hitting for the cycle in a loss to Samford on Wednesday in Birmingham. Smith became the sixth player in Alabama history and the second this season to hit for the cycle. He stroked a leadoff home run in the second inning and singled in the fifth, doubled in the seventh and tripled off the center field wall in the eighth. He finished the game by going 4-for-5 with three runs scored and one RBI.

In the weekend series at Vanderbilt, Smith was 4-for-13 (.308) with three doubles, one home run and three RBI.

In the series opener, Smith was 2-for-5 with two runs scored and two doubles. He led off the seventh inning with double off Mike Minor and scored on Wes Henderson's game-tying home run. His one out double keyed a six-run eighth inning as UA posted a 10-4 series opening win. It was UA's first Friday night win in Nashville since 2000.

He was 2-for-4 with two runs scored, one double, one home run and one RBI in series finale at the plate. He doubled and scored UA's first run in the second inning and his solo home run jump-started a four-run sixth inning that resulted in a series sweep.

Smith also made his SEC debut on the mound as he entered the game in the sixth inning and retired both batters he faced and stranded two base runners with UA clinging to a 7-5 lead. Smith worked the final 3 2/3 innings for his first save. It was also the first save by Alabama in an SEC game this season. He allowed one run on four hits with three strikeouts and one walk. He preserved the game with a strikeout and ground out with one out in the ninth inning, stranding the tying and winning runs on base.

Overall, Smith is having his best season at Alabama. He is batting .380 with 14 home runs and 38 RBI in 35 games.

Alabama also nominated a pitcher for the SEC honor.

Del Howell, a junior left-hander from Tuscaloosa, won his fifth game of the season and third SEC game with a series-clinching win over Vanderbilt in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader. (Alabama and Vandy had been scheduled to play Sunday, but the threat of bad weather influenced the teams to move the Sunday game to Saturday evening.)

Howell recorded his first career complete game for the Tide and held the Commodores to three runs and six hits, with 10 strikeouts and one walk. It was his third double-digit strikeout game of the year and second in SEC play.

After allowing single runs in the first and second innings, Howell held the Commodores to one run over the final seven 7 1/3 innings for the win. He wrapped up the game by retiring 21 of the last 22 batters he faced. He worked three-up, three-down innings in the third, fourth and fifth innings. After allowing back-to-back hits to lead off the sixth inning, Howell then retired the final 11 Vandy hitters in order, including a three-up, three-down seventh, eighth and ninth inning. He struck out the side in the eighth.

For the season, Howell is 5-1 with a 3.79 ERA in six starts. In 38 innings, he has allowed 16 runs and 36 hits with 53 strikeouts and 13 walks. He has limited the opposition to a .257 batting average. He is second on the UA team with 53 strikeouts.

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