Tide Hopes Offense Rolls Vs. Kentucky

Alabama gets back into Southeastern Conference play this weekend hosting Kentucky in three games at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The Crimson Tide has one of the nation's best offensive teams as Bama hopes to improve its SEC and national standing.

Alabama hosts Kentucky beginning at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The teams will meet again at 4 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

The Crimson Tide enters the weekend just 1 1/2 games behind division-leading Arkansas in the SEC Western Division race. The Tide also trails second-place LSU and Mississippi by one game in the standings. Both teams are coming off SEC road series wins last week, but suffered midweek setbacks this week. Alabama swept a three-game series at then-No. 28 Vanderbilt last weekend in Nashville. Kentucky picked up a series win at Mississippi, winning games one and three. The Crimson Tide lost a 21-16 slugfest at South Alabama on Wednesday night, tying the school record for most runs scored in a loss. Kentucky lost a pair of midweek home games to Lipscomb and Evansville.

Alabama has returned to the national rankings after a three-game sweep at No. 28 Vanderbilt last weekend in Nashville. The Crimson Tide is ranked in three of the four polls this week, marking the first time since opening day that UA has been ranked in as many polls. Alabama is ranked 21st by Collegiate Baseball, 22nd by Baseball America, and 27th by the NCBWA in this week's rankings.

Alabama's scheduled pitchers are right-hander Austin Wyatt (6-1, 3.24 ERA) on Friday, left-hander Del Howell (5-1, 3.79 ERA) Saturday and right-hander Adam Scott (1-1, 4.61 ERA) Sunday.

Kentucky will counter with left-hander James Paxton (4-2, 5.58 ERA) on Friday, left-hander Chris Rusin (4-3, 4.28) Saturday and right-hander Alex Mever (1-2, 5.08) Sunday.

It is not pitching, however, that is carrying Alabama this year. Alabama is one of the best offensive clubs in college baseball with its .342 batting average and 86 home runs in 41 games this season. The Crimson Tide continues to put up staggering numbers every game. The Tide is averaging 9.6 runs and 12.5 hits per game this season. Alabama has scored in double figures 18 times, including 24 runs against Alabama A&M (March 17), 22 runs against Troy (April 7) and 20 runs against Illinois-Chicago (Feb. 28). The three 20-run games are the most by the Crimson Tide since the 1999 season, when UA posted five games of 20 or more runs. Alabama's current .342 batting average would surpass the single-season record of .340 set by the 1997 team. The 111 doubles are just four shy of the single-season Top 10. Alabama's 86 home runs already rank seventh on the single-season charts. At its current pace the Tide would become just the fourth team in school history to hit 100 or more home runs, joining the 1997 (160), 1998 (122) and 1999 (120) squads.

Senior right fielder Kent Matthes (.375, 22 HR, 65 RBI) continues to lead the nation with 22 home runs. He has homered in 18 of his 39 games this season, with multi-homer games against SE Missouri State (Feb. 22), Texas A&M Corpus-Christi (March 7), Mississippi (March 22) and Troy (April 7). Matthes has homered against 13 of the Tide's 18 opponents this season, including all six SEC squads. Junior third baseman Jake Smith (.371, 14 HR, 37 RBI) is one of the Tide's hottest hitters, having hit safely in 27 of his last 30 games. Since Feb. 28, he is hitting .410 (50-for-122) with 14 home runs and 34 RBI. He has also added 32 runs scored, 12 doubles and one triple for the Tide. During the 30-game stretch, Smith has posted hitting streaks of seven, 10 and eight games. He has also swatted a career-high 14 home runs this season and hit for the cycle against Samford on April 15.

Smith (5 G, 0-1, 2.31 ERA, 1 SV) has also established himself as one UA's top relievers. He notched his first career save and UA's only SEC save in a 7-6 win at Vanderbilt on April 18.

Freshman left fielder Taylor Dugas (.393, 2 HR, 24 RBI) leads the SEC with 66 hits and 18 doubles this season. He has reached base safely in 31 straight games. Junior DH Brandon May (.329, 8 HR, 46 RBI) leads the league with 24 RBI in 18 SEC games. He had three hits and five RBI at South Alabama on Wednesday.

Senior right-hander Austin Hyatt (9 G, 6-1, 3.24 ERA) and junior left-hander Del Howell (6 GS, 5-1, 3.79 ERA) are a combined 11-2 (.846) with 108 strikeouts this season. Hyatt leads the SEC with 66.2 innings and owns an 11:1 strikeout (55) to walk (5) ratio this year. Howell has three double-figure strikeout games against Alabama A&M (14), Tennessee (13) and Vanderbilt (10).

Junior Clay Jones (.360, 5 HR, 32 RBI) has seven hits and six RBI in his last two games. Senior catcher Vin DiFazio (.315, 7 HR, 18 RBI) is 7-for-13 (.538) in his last three games. Sophomore shortstop Josh Rutledge (.326, 4 HR, 4 RBI) hit for the cycle at South Alabama. He is the third UA player to hit for the cycle this year.

The NCAA statistics were released on Tuesday, and for the fifth straight week, the Crimson Tide offense is among the national leaders in a number of categories. Alabama ranks in the Top 5 nationally in home runs (2nd), runs scored (3rd), home runs per game (3rd), slugging (4th), hits (5th) and doubles (5th). The Crimson Tide ranks among the nation's Top 20 teams in scoring (12th), doubles per game (12th) and batting average (14th). Alabama pitchers are 12th in the nation in walks per nine innings (2.29) and 15th in strikeouts per nine innings (9.1). As a team, Alabama ranks 32nd with a ..972 fielding mark.

Kent Matthes ranks in the Top nationally in five different offensive categories. He leads the NCAA in home run (22), home runs per game (0..59) and total bases (133). He ranks second nationally in RBI (62) and is third in RBI per game (1.62) and slugging (.964).

Taylor Dugas ranks among the NCAA leaders in a number of offensive categories. The true freshman is 10th nationally in hits (65), 14th in doubles (17), 25th in runs scored (45), 33rd in doubles per game (0.45) and 38th in runs per game (1.29). Jake Smith ranks 14th in home runs (14), 16th in slugging (.803), 19th in home runs per game (0.38) and 23rd in total bases (110). Austin Hyatt is fourth nationally in fewest walks per nine innings (0.67) and 26th in wins (6).

The Crimson Tide leads the SEC in 12 offensive categories, including hitting (.342), slugging (.602), on-base percentage (.426), runs scored (394), hits (512), RBI (368), doubles (110), home runs (86), total bases (902), plate appearances (1,780) and sac flies (24). Alabama has three of the league's top six hitters, including freshman left fielder Taylor Dugas (2nd, .391), senior right fielder Kent Matthes (5th, .375) and junior third baseman Jake Smith (6th, ..371). Matthes leads the SEC in home runs (22) and slugging (.938) and ranks second in RBI (65) and total bases (135). Dugas paces the league in hits (66) and doubles (18).

Alabama is tied for second nationally with 86 home runs this season. College of Charleston leads the nation with 87 home runs, followed by the Crimson Tide and Auburn with 86 home runs apiece. Alabama ranks third with 2.04 home runs per game this season, trailing only College of Charleston (2.24) and Elon (2.14).

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