Alabama Has High Hopes In Starkville

It is not often that a college baseball team goes to Starkville with the thought that it should win a baseball series, perhaps sweep the series. The Alabama Crimson Tide is in position to have both that expectation and need as Bama takes on Mississippi State this weekend.

Alabama has surged in recent weeks in Southeastern Conference play and has moved into the national top 25 standings in the stretch run of regular season play. Mississippi State, meanwhile, has had an uncharacteristic mediocre season to date. Bama is now 30-15 overall and 12-9 in SEC play and ranked 22nd in the nation. The Bulldogs are 21-14 overall and 6-15 in conference play.

The series begins at 6:30 p.m. CDT Friday. There will also be games at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Polk-Dement Stadium/Dudy Noble Field in Starkville.

Alabama, which leads the all-time series against the Bulldogs by 200-166-3, is expected to start senior right-hander Austin Hyatt in Friday's game. Hyatt has started 10 games and has a 6-1 record and 3.45 earned run average. Other scheduled starters for the Tide of Coach Jim Wells are left-hander Del Howell (5-2, 4.79 ERA) on Saturday and right-hander Adam Scott (2-1, 4.08 ERA) on Sunday.

The Bulldogs have not announced a Friday starting pitcher. State will go with left-hander Nick Routt (4-3, 3.41) on Saturday and left-hander Tyler Whitney (2-4, 5.02) Sunday.

Other SEC series this weekend are LSU at Arkansas, Ole Miss at Auburn, Florida at Georgia, Tennessee at Kentucky, and Vanderbilt at Kentucky.

Alabama has won five of its last six games and nine of its last 12 SEC games. The Crimson Tide posted a 13-5 (.722) record in the month of April, which included the 12 SEC games. Alabama is 4-5 (.444) in SEC road games this season and is coming off a three-game sweep of then-No. 28 Vanderbilt in its last road outing two weeks ago. The Crimson Tide has won the last three series' against the Bulldogs, including a series in its last trip to Starkville to close out the 2007 regular season.

Offensively, Alabama is led by senior outfielder Kent Matthes, who leads the Tide in batting at .378, home runs with 23 and runs batted in with 67. His 23 home runs is best in the nation. He also joined the Alabama 200-hit club when he got his 200th careet hit against South Alabama earlier this week.

Junior third baseman Jake Smith (.365, 16 HR, 45 RBI) gives the Tide one of the top home run-hitting duos in the nation. Smith has a career-high 16 home runs this season and now has 30 career home runs in his three-year career. He has doubled his home run total of last year, when he hit a career-high eight home runs as a sophomore.

Alabama senior right-hander Austin Hyatt ranks second nationally in fewest walks per nine innings this season with 0.59 walks per game. Hyatt, who leads the SEC with 73 innings pitched, has recorded 62 strikeouts and five walks this season. He enters the Mississippi State series with a string of 25 consecutive innings without a walk. He has not issued a walk since the eighth inning of the Tennessee game on April 3.

Junior utility-man Brandon May (.327, 8 HR, 50 RBI) led the Crimson Tide with a .378 (28-for-74) batting average in the month of April. He had 14 extra base hits and finished the month with five home runs and 27 RBI in 28 games.

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