Alabama Baseball Heads To Atlanta

It's a long, long way to Omaha, but a lot more manageable trip than it looked a few weeks ago. When the Alabama Crimson Tide baseball team was 10-15 in Southeastern Conference play, just making it to the SEC Championship Tournament seemed remote. Now Bama is wearing its cleats in the big dance of college baseball.

Alabama just missed winning the SEC Tournament Championship Sunday. On Monday, the Crimson Tide's remarkable turn-around season was rewarded with Bama going to the NCAA Championship Tournament.

The Crimson Tide of Coach Mitch Gaspard is headed to Atlanta for the double elimination regional hosted by Georgia Tech. The regional tournaments will be played Friday through Monday. Super Regional best-of-three tournaments will be played June 11-14 to get to the final eight teams that goe to Omaha for the College World Series. The double elimination tournament is June 19-30 with the best-of-three championship series June 28-30.

Georgia Tech (45-13) is the host team for the Atlanta regional. The Yellow Jackets are the national eight seed.

In addition to Alabama (37-22), Atlanta is hosting Mercer (37-22) and Elon (38-22).

Alabama is the number two seed in the regional and will play Elon, the number three seed, on Friday at 3 p.m. EDT (2 p.m. central time). Tech will play Mercer, the regional's fourth seed, at 7 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. central). The losers of Friday's games will play Saturday at 2 p.m. CDT and the winners of Friday's games will square off Saturday at 6 p.m. CDT.

The winner of the Atlanta Regional will play the winner of the Auburn Regional in the Super Regionals next week.

Gaspard expressed pleasaure at being selected for the Atlanta regional. "You're busing over there so it's a pretty easy trip for us," he said. "Secondly, it's going to give our fan base the opportunity to come over and watch us play which could certainly help us in some of those ballgames. There's a lot of advantages to when you're just going four hours and not having to jump on a plane to go somewhere."

Regarding pitching plans, Gaspard said, "We don't know a lot about Elon right now. We'll have to break them down and start getting scouting reports on all three teams. I think with our pitchers and the way they're pitching right now, it's really important for how we want to match up. Obviously you can't look ahead to the next game, but at the same time, we've got some great options right now. I think that there's not going to be a poor choice, but you've got to look at who can bounce back and come back later.

"It's one game at a time. Right now, when I look at our guys, I think it's 1 (Jimmy Nelson) and 1A (Nathan "Peanut" Kilcrease) right now. I think it's more of how the match up looks right now. You've got to win Game 1 to be in position for Game 2."

On the team's strong pitching late in the season, Gaspard said, "I think at this point in the season, it's not about offense as much as it is about pitching. You win Regionals with good pitching, good defensive play and good timely hitting. You look at regional games and you don't see many 12-10 scores. I think there's a little more confidence and energy about us knowing that we're pitching so well. Pitching is going to put you in a position to win and I think we've got a pitching staff that's at the top of their game right now."

Pitcher Adam Morgan, who had a complete game victory over Florida in the SEC Tournament, said the pitching staff "has been working hard since the fall. We've stuck with the plan. Some guys will have good games, some will have a bad game and it's just a matter of how you recover from those bad games and we've been recovering well and pitching well."

Morgan and catcher Brock Bennett are both from the Atlanta area. Morgan said, "It's always good to go home. We're just going to take it game-by-game and give it all we've got.

"I've pitched at that field plenty of times. It's a nice field with a good mound so I know what to expect from the field. Right now every team is tough and we can't take a game off. I'm familiar with the field but not the teams."

Bennett said he grew up a Georgia Tech fan. "That was my favorite team growing up and I went to some of their games," he said. "My house is 10 minutes from there and it's kind of weird playing them but it should be fun."

Bennett is more pleased by the "how" and the "where."

He said he didn't think about where Bama might be playing. Mainly, he likes the way Alabama is playing.

"Definitely the way our pitchers have been throwing has given us a lot of momentum and getting hits at the right time. Hopefully we can keep this going and have a successful end to the year."

Following the SEC Tournament, Alabama was ranked as the nation's 14th team in the RPI system that includes layers of schedules, and Bama was rated as having played the nation's 12th toughest schedule.

Alabama will be making its 21st NCAA Regional appearance this season and its 13th appearance in the last 16 years. The Crimson Tide was the No. 2 seed in the Conway Regional in 2008 and the No. 2 seed in the Clemson Regional last year.

First-year Coach Mitch Gaspard is making his second NCAA Regional appearance and first with the Crimson Tide.  Gaspard took Northwestern (La.) State to the 2005 NCAA Baton Rouge Regional, where the Demons posted a 1-2 record with a win over Marist.

Alabama posted a 20-16 record against teams in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.  The list of opponents to make this year's tournament field includes Arkansas (0-3), Auburn (3-2), College of Charleston (2-1), Florida (2-2), Jacksonville State (2-0), LSU (0-4), Minnesota (2-0), Mississippi (3-1), South Carolina (1-2), Stony Brook (3-0) and Vanderbilt (2-1).

Alabama and Elon will be meeting for the first time this weekend at the Georgia Tech Regional.  The Phoenix are one of three Southern Conference teams to receive an NCAA tournament bid along with The Citadel and College of Charleston.  Alabama won a road series at Charleston on March 5-7 this season.

Alabama owns an 18-6-1 record against Mercer and then teams have not squared off on the diamond since 1998.  Mercer earned an automatic bid to this year's tournament by winning the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament last week in Nashville.

The Crimson Tide and Georgia Tech have a long athletic history.  Alabama is 30-28-1 all-time against Georgia Tech and the two teams have not met since the 1996 Olive Garden Classic in Kissimmee, Fla.  Alabama won that game 7-2.  The two teams have not met in an NCAA Regional since 1991 when the Tide posted an 8-4 win at the NCAA Atlantic Regional in Tallahassee, Fla.  Georgia Tech's last win over Alabama came at the 1986 NCAA Atlantic Regional in Coral Gables, Fla.

For ticket information, contact the Georgia Tech Ticket Office at 404-894-5447 or 888-TECHTIX.

Other SEC teams in the tournament are Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, South Carolina (all hosting), Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and LSU -- meaning the eight teams that were in the SEC Tournament.

The Pac-10 and ACC also had eight teams each in the 64-team tournament.

LSU defeated Alabama 4-3 to win the SEC Tournament. The Fighting Tigers, the national championship team last year, is playing at UCLA.

In addition to Georgia Tech at the eighth seed, other top seeds are 1. Arizona State, 2. Texas, 3. Florida, 4. Coastal Carolina, 5. Virginia, 6. UCLA, and 7. Louisville.

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