Tide At Arkansas Key SEC Series

Alabama baseball goes to Arkansas this weekend in what figures to be a key Southeastern Conference Western Division series in just the second weekend of league play. Bama won two of three games hosting South Carolina in its first weekend of play, while the Razorbacks lost two of three at LSU last week.

Alabama is ranked as high as 16th in the nation, while Arkansas is rated as high as 15th. Bama and the Razorbacks will play at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville at 6:35 p.m. CDT Friday, 2:05 p.m. Saturday, and 1:05 p.m. Sunday.

Alabama (16-3, 2-1 SEC) enters the game following an 8-6 non-conference loss to Auburn in the 2010 Capital City Classic in Montgomery on Wednesday night. Arkansas (15-5, 1-2 SEC) is fresh off midweek sweep of McNeese State in Lake Charles, La. this week.

Here are the pitching match-ups:

Friday, Alabama left-handed sophomore Adam Morgan (3-0, 2.83 earned run average) vs. Arkansas right-handed junior Mike Bolsinger (3-0, 3.18). Saturday, Bama right-handed junior Jimmy Nelson (4-0, 1.26) vs. Razorbacks left-handed soph Drew Smyly (2-0, 1.73). Sunday, Crimson Tide left-handed freshman Taylor Wolfe (2-0, 3.00) vs. Hogs right-handed junior Brett Eibner (2-2, 3.18).

First year Alabama Coach Mitch Gaspard said Fayetteville is "always a great place to play with great fans there and our players enjoy making that trip. Overall, going into the series, we've gotten off to a nice start. I'd say pitching overall has been the one key thing that is probably the most improved from a year ago. We are still finding our way offensively. We have had some good nights and some nights where we are still trying to put it together. The pitching and defense has been pretty solid all year and we've been able to play pretty consistent in doing that."

Alabama is ranked in all five major polls this week, entering the Baseball America (20th) rankings for the first time this season on Monday. Alabama is also ranked by Collegiate Baseball (16th), NCBWA (20th), Ping Baseball (17th) and USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll (17th).

Alabama's 16-3 start has not gone unnoticed. The Crimson Tide is third in the latest RPI rankings, released Thursday, March 25 by Boyd Nation (www.boydsworld.com). Alabama will play 10 teams ranked in the latest Top 40, including Florida (No. 4), LSU (No. 13), Mississippi (No., 14), Auburn (No. 16), College of Charleston (No. 18), Mississippi State (No. 19), SE Louisiana (No. 22), Arkansas (No. 26), Vanderbilt (No. 28) and South Carolina (No. 38).  Alabama has three more opponents in the Top 100 RPI, including Kentucky (No. 44), South Alabama (No. 64), Tennessee (No. 89) and Georgia (No. 100).

  Gaspard said, "We've got an awful lot of respect for Arkansas.  We know that they are loaded back with a lot of experienced players that went to Omaha last year.  They've played a pretty tough schedule up to this point.  We will really start breaking them down today on the trip there. (Mike) Bolsinger, we have seen him enough, to know that he is awfully good.  (Drew) Smyly has pitched really well for them. (Brett) Eibner and couple of guys out of the pen are good.  The one thing about Arkansas is they can be a really powerful lineup with some really physical players.  They have good team speed.  It's a team with good balance throughout.  They are awfully good at home and are very well coached with Dave (Van Horn) and Todd (Butler) and (Dave) Jorn, who all do a really nice job.  We certainly know that for us this weekend it's going to be a great challenge.

  Alabama center fielder Taylor Dugas has been difficult to keep of the bases of late.. In the Tide's last three games, the sophomore has reached base 13 times in his 15 plate appearances, including the last eight in a row. During the streak, he has six hits, seven walks and two sacrifice bunts en route to a whopping ..867 on-base percentage. For the season, Dugas leads the Tide in hitting (.484) and on-base percentage (.607).

  Gaspard said, "Taylor is certainly one of the top leadoff guys in the country. He led the SEC for good bit last year in hitting as a freshman.. He is just off to another tremendous start.  He is our spark plug and gets us going and sets the table.  For most of last year, he led the league in doubles. He is a Lenny Dykstra-type player that ignites the offense.  He is one of the better players to come through Alabama."

Alabama boasts the SEC's leading hitter in all games played and SEC games played entering the Arkansas series. Sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas leads the SEC with a .484 batting average through 19 games. He is 31-for-64 for the season and has recorded at least one hit in 15 of 19 games.  He also leads the SEC with a .607 on-base percentage and has reached base safely in 18 of 19 games. Junior catcher Brock Bennett is the leading hitter in SEC play with a ..727 clip.  He went 8-for-11 in the season-opening series with Vanderbilt and at one point in the series tallied eight straight hits.  He made his SEC debut in the series opener and went 2-for-3 with two RBI.  

Alabama leads the all-time series with Arkansas, 38-21, following last year's three-game sweep in Tuscaloosa. Alabama swept a three-game series between the two nationally ranked teams, winning 2-1, 8-6 and 6-5 at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The Crimson Tide outscored the Razorbacks 16-12 in the three-game series and all three games were decided in the final three innings. 

  Alabama has won the last three series (2007, 2008 and 2009). Arkansas' last series win came in Fayetteville in 2006.  The Crimson Tide has also won five of the last six meetings between the two SEC Western Division rivals.  The last four meetings have been decided by five total runs. 

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