Will Offense Hold Up Vs. Arkansas?

Two out of three ain't bad. The Alabama baseball team of Coach Jim Wells has parlayed good fielding and great hitting into a 32-15 record, including a 14-9 mark in Southeastern Conference games. Following a two-game sweep of Mississippi State, Bama is a contender for the SEC championship.

Alabama is one of a handful of teams challenging for the SEC championship. This week the Crimson Tide hosts Arkansas, another title contender. Bama and Arkansas are tied for third in the SEC West and fourth overall behind LSU, Ole Miss and Florida, the three teams tied for the lead with 16-8 records.

Bama will host the Razorbacks in games at 6:30 p.m. CDT Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Alabama scored 41 runs in winning three games last week. After romping South Alabama by 14-2, the Tide had to hang on in sweeping Mississippi State by 10-8 and 17-16. (The third game against the Bulldogs was a victim of weather.)

Alabama has won seven of its last eight and 11 of its last 14 SEC games, The Crimson Tide is 15-5 (.750) in its last 20 games, dating back to April 1. Alabama was 13-5 in the month of April.

With the two-game sweep at MSU, Alabama has now won five straight SEC road games. The five-game SEC road-winning streak is the longest since the 1997-98 seasons when UA defeated Mississippi State (1), Mississippi (3) and Georgia (1). The last time Alabama won five straight SEC road games in the same season came in 1983 against LSU (2) and Auburn (3).

Alabama has been winning most notably on the basis of its offense. Last week's star was Brandon May, who was the SEC Player of the Week after hitting 9-16 (.563) with six runs, three doubles, a triple, a home run and 12 runs batted in. He had a slugging percentage of 1.250.

The Crimson Tide offense has scored five or more runs in an inning 23 times. The Tide has scored eight runs in an inning for times.

Although the goal is understandably higher than making the SEC Tournament (the top eight teams overall go to Hoover May 20-24), Bama needs only one victory (or one loss by Kentucky) to qualify for the tournament. Following the Arkansas series, Bama finishes regular season play at Auburn May 15-17. Making the SEC Tournament usually means an NCAA Tournament bid.

Alabama's problem against Arkansas, Auburn and in (possible) post-season play is pitching. Bama has a reliable starter in senior right-hander Austin Hyatt. Hyatt improved to 7-1 on the season with a win in the series opener at Mississippi State. Other Tide pitchers have been inconsistent.

The Tide has had particular problems with its bullpen. Third baseman Jake Smith is having an all-star year for Bama as fielder and hitter and has taken on a new role in recent weeks as relief pitcher, an effective closer. But at Mississippi State, Smith suffered an injury and his status beyond hitting has not been revealed. He was to undergo medical tests this week.

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