Alabama At Auburn Could Be Homerfest

A red-hot Alabama baseball team has an outside chance to win its 15th Southeastern Conference championship (and second in the past four years), but will probably have to sweep Auburn in Auburn in a three-game series that begins Thursday to have a chance at the title.

Alabama is 17-9 in SEC games, a half game behind LSU, which has a three-game series at Mississippi State to end regular season play. Bama must win one more game than the Bengal Tigers to have a chance at the title. Florida and Ole Miss are both a half game behind Alabama and still in contention in the final week. Ole Miss is at Arkansas and Florida hosts Kentucky.

Alabama, which is 36-15 overall this year and ranked as high as 10th in the nation, and Auburn (29-24 overall and 9-18 in SEC games) play at Plainsman Park in Auburn. The first game will be at 6 p.m. CDT Thursday and will be regionally telecast. Friday's game will also begin at 6 p.m. and the regular season finale will be at 2 p.m. Saturday and also regionally televised.

Alabama and Auburn are the two most prolific home run hitting teams in the SEC this season. The Crimson Tide tops the charts with 103 home runs, while the Tigers are a close second with 100. The teams combine to average 3.88 home runs per game. Both teams rank among the national leaders in home runs and home runs per game. Alabama has three players with double-figure home runs, led by Kent Matthes' NCAA-leading 26 round-trippers. Jake Smith (17) and Brandon May (12) also have double-digit homers. Auburn has five players with 10 or more home runs--Joseph Sanders (18), Brian Fletcher (16), Trent Mummey (15), Ben Jones (12) and Tony Caldwell (10).

Alabama's 103 home runs ranks fourth in school history and is also fourth best in the nation this year. The Tide record is 160 homers hit in 1997.

Alabama right fielder Kent Matthes has 26 home runs this season, leaving him one home run shy of the Alabama single-season record held by Doug Duke, who swatted 27 home runs in 1986. Matthes has homered in three straight games and hit his 26th home run of the season in the first inning against Jacksonville Sate on May 12. Matthes and Middle Tennessee State center fielder Bryce Brentz share the NCAA lead with 26 home runs. Matthes' 26 home runs this season surpasses his three-year total from 2006-08 (20 home runs). His previous best was 11 home runs in 61 games last season. He is currently tied with Jeremy Brown (1999-2002) for fifth place on the school's all-time home run list with 46 career round-trippers.

One might think former commissioner Roy Kramer had left behind the SEC baseball schedule. Alabama closes out the regular season on the road for the fifth straight year, wrapping up the last five seasons against Auburn (2005), Tennessee (2006), Mississippi State (2007), Georgia (2008) and Auburn (2009). Alabama and Auburn have met on the final weekend of the season 12 times (1979, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2005 and 2009) since the Tigers moved to the SEC Western Division in 1977.

Alabama is one of the hottest teams in the nation, having won 19-of-24 games since April 1. The Crimson Tide has won eight straight games and six straight SEC games, both season highs. Overall, Alabama is 19-5 in its last 24 games, dating back to April 1. The Crimson Tide has won six straight, 10 of 11 and 14 of 17 SEC games during that span. Alabama has won four straight SEC series and six overall series this season. The Tide also owns a five-game SEC road winning streak, following consecutive sweeps at No. 28 Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.

Alabama is among the top 10 teams in the nation in home runs (4th, 103), home runs per game (5th, 2.00), slugging (.589) and runs scored (466). Bama leads the SEC in 11 offensive categories, including hitting (337), slugging (.589), on-base percentage (.421), runs scored (474), hits (621), RBI (442), doubles (127), home runs (103), total bases (1,085), at-bats (1,842), plate appearances (2,029) and hit batters (67).

Alabama's recent play has not gone unnoticed. The Crimson Tide made the biggest jump this week in the national polls after its three-game sweep of then-No. 11 Arkansas last weekend in Tuscaloosa. Alabama is ranked 10th this week by Collegiate Baseball newspaper, 12th by Baseball America and 19th in the NCBWA and ESPN/Coaches polls.

Although Matthes gets most of the attention, there are other Tiders having good seasons.

Sophomore second baseman Ross Wilson (.352, 9 HR, 45) is riding a season-best 11-game hitting streak. Senior right-hander Austin Hyatt (11 GS, 8-1, 3.13 ERA) is the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week following his three-hitter against then-No. 11 Arkansas on May 8. He leads the SEC with 89 innings pitched this season and ranks fifth nationally with 0.9 walks per nine innings. Sophomore right-hander Nathan Kilcrease (21 G, 4-2, 2 SV, 3.60 ERA) has two wins and one save in his last three relief appearances for the Tide.

Alabama leads the all-time series with Auburn, 138-113. The two teams played at the 2009 Capital City Classic at Montgomery's Riverwalk Stadium earlier this year (March 10), with the Tigers pulling out an 8-7 win.

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