BASEBALL: UF Vs. Alabama Series Preview

The Southeastern Conference schedule makers have been kind to Florida baseball fans this season. The Gators opened the conference slate hosting Eastern Division favorite (eighth-ranked) South Carolina. Florida then got the opportunity to check in on former Florida coaches John Cohen and Gary Henderson at Kentucky, who have some impressive young talent.

Don't be surprised if Cohen, Henderson, and the 'Cats help the Gators out by scratching out a win or two in late season match-ups against South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

This weekend, the schedule makers have matched the best in the West versus the best in the East, as #18 Alabama (25-10, 8-4) invades Gainesville to take on the sixth-ranked Gators (25-8, 8-4). The Crimson Tide took two of three last weekend in Oxford against Ole Miss, something the Gators weren't able to do in the opening week of conference play.

The Gators took two of three from the Tide last year in Tuscaloosa. It was Florida's first road series win over Alabama since 1988. All three games were very entertaining contests. The Gators were one of the only teams in the country last year to force Florida Marlins first round selection Taylor Tankersley to an early out. The Florida batters demonstrated patience as Tankersley walked five batters in just 3.2 innings. Alabama later took command of the game 5-2, but the Gators rallied, scoring four runs in the top of the eighth to win the rubber match 6-5. The game ended in that all important eighth inning, as the SEC curfew rule on travel arrangements took fell into place.

Series Records

Overall: Alabama leads 48-35 (.578)

Under Pat McMahon: Aabama leads 5-7

The Gators have won four of the last six games between the two schools, including posting 2-1 series records in 2003 and 2004. Alabama enjoyed its greatest success in McMahon's first season at Florida. The Crimson Tide swept the Gators in Tuscaloosa, and beat them twice in the SEC Tournament, which amounts to five wins in one season. Florida did beat Alabama once in the tourney but had to face them for a third time in the semi-finals and lost.

Alabama 2005

The Crimson Tide made their Top 25 debut at #18 (Baseball America) after taking two of three from Ole Miss last weekend. Alabama began the season by taking a trip to Hawaii, where they split a four game series with the Rainbow Warriors. The Tide then reeled off 13 wins in their next 16 games. However, the 15-5 Crimson Tide failed to garner regional or national attention as none of their victories was over a quality opponent. Just before conference play, Alabama dropped a three game series to Miami of Ohio in Tuscaloosa, which kept them out of the rankings.

Bama swept Kentucky to start conference play then dropped two out of three to Vanderbilt in Nashville. The Crimson Tide earned the respect of the pollsters with consecutive series wins over LSU (Tuscaloosa) and Ole Miss (Oxford).

Pitching

The strength of this Alabama team is pitching, a department which the Crimson Tide rank among the top three in the SEC. Crimson Tide pitchers have struck out an SEC high 340 batters but they have also walked an SEC high 121 batters. Freshman David Robertson (5-2) is the third best individual pitcher in the conference.

The Crimson Tide and Gators have played two common opponents (Kentucky and Ole Miss) thus far in conference action. I'll provide a thumbnail of the Bama pitchers performance against each of those teams.

Starters

RHP T.J.Large: 6-3, 203, Jr. (5-2, 1.74 ERA, .168 OBA)

The junior from Largo, Florida has been the Crimson Tide's most effective starter to date. Large pitched for Chipola Junior College before transferring to St. Pete College. He received a medical redshirt last season after pitching into three games for the Tide.

Large, who has struck out 62 batters in 62 innings, is second in the SEC in strikeouts. He gave up four earned runs while walking five in seven innings against Ole Miss last weekend. He pitched 6.1 innings and gave up three earned runs on five hits in a no decision against Kentucky. The right hander pitched his best game of the season two weeks ago versus LSU. Large went the distance, pitching a four hit shutout.

LHP Brent Carter, 6-3, 195, Sr. (4-2, 3.93 ERA, .245 OBA)

Carter pitched 6.1 innings against the 'Cats. He gave up five hits and two earned runs, while striking out three. He received no decision in the game. Carter was shelled by LSU. The senior gave up seven hits and five earned runs in 6.2 innings for his second loss of the year. Carter has struck out 61 batters in 55 innings, which ranks him third in the SEC.

He pitched six innings, allowing five hits and two earned runs against the Gators last season. He did not get the decision. Justin Tordi singled twice and Adam Davis doubled against Carter last season for Florida.

LHP Brandon Belcher, 6-0, 176, So. (4-0, 3.79 ERA, .230 OBA)

or

RHP David Roberston, 5-10, 170, Fr., (5-2, 1.47 ERA, .132 OBA, two saves)

Belcher came on in relief on Saturday versus Kentucky. The 'Cats had scored one run and had two on with no outs. Belcher gave up one hit and one run in that inning. He shut down Kentucky the rest of the way to pick up his third win of the year. Belcher was outstanding against Ole Miss last weekend. The freshman allowed six earned runs on eight hits in a complete game victory.

Robertson pitched 2.2 innings of relief against Kentucky. He gave up one hit and one earned run while striking out seven for the win. The right hander picked up the win in relief against Ole Miss. He pitched two shutout innings, striking out three Rebels for his fifth victory. Robertson pitched 6.1 innings where he allowed three earned runs on five hits. He struck out seven.

Bullpen

RHP Jordan Davis, 6-0, 190, Jr. (3-1, 2.43 ERA, .222 OBA, one save)

Davis picked up the Friday victory over Kentucky. He pitched 2.2 no-hit innings, striking out four Wildcats. He came back on Sunday to close out the Alabama win. He gave up one hit and no earned runs. Davis pitched very well against LSU, helping the Tide to the extra inning victory. The junior gave up five hits and four walks, but no runs in 6.2 innings as he picked up his third win of the 2005 season.

LHP Wade LeBlanc, 6-3, 180, So., (2-1, 2.88 ERA, .138 OBA)

Any appearance by LeBlanc in Gainesville will be limited. He is currently rehabilitating a shoulder injury which occurred during a post game celebration after the Crimson Tide defeated Miami of Ohio 8-7. I have no earthly idea as to why an Alabama team would even have a post game celebration after beating Miami of Ohio. It's not they beat the Hurricanes for goodness sakes.

LeBlanc pitched two innings last weekend against Ole Miss. He gave up four hits and a pair of earned runs. The sophomore pitched three innings against lowly Memphis (8-21) Tuesday night. LeBlanc gave up two earned runs and was on a 60 pitch count. He struck out five.

RHP Josh Copeland, 6-3, 200, Fr. (1-1, 4.42 ERA, .270 OBA)

Copeland gave up two earned runs on three hits in just 0.2 innings against LSU on April 2. The freshman came on in relief of LeBlanc Tuesday night against Memphis. He pitched three innings, allowing four hits and one earned run as he picked up his first win of the season.

Florida

All three Florida starters struck out seven Georgia hitters this past weekend. The Gators received a tremendous performance from freshman Stephen Locke (5-0). The Tampa King graduate pitched 5.2 shutout innings against the Bulldogs, sending many in attendance home early. He allowed only five hits, while striking out seven.

Alan Horne (2-2) threw 110 pitches, his most this season. The junior completed seven innings in which he allowed six hits only one earned run. Horne also only allowed one walk. He outdueled Sean Ruthven for the win.

Tommy Boss (4-2) pitched well enough in the Friday night opener to get the win. The Boss Man pitched 6.1 innings and allowed only two earned runs. He struck out a career high seven Georgia batters. Boss had better watch out or he'll soon become known as a strikeout pitcher.


Record

IP

ERA

Opp BA

BB

SO

2B

HR

Florida

25-8

299.0

3.31

.261

77

245

50

17

Bama

24-10

308.2

3.15

.219

118

332

48

17

* Updated stats from Tuesday night's Memphis game were unavailable at press time

Offensive

Alabama ranks 11th overall in SEC batting with a .287 average. Only six Crimson Tide batters secured a hit against a pathetic Memphis squad on Tuesday night. Much like Florida, the Tide has faced solid pitching. Bama has faced Vanderbilt, LSU, and Ole Miss. You would think that they would have ripped the young Kentucky staff in the conference opening series. However, the Tide averaged only seven hits per game. Florida averaged 13.6 hits per game against those same 'Cats.

Gabe Scott leads the Crimson Tide in most of the hitting categories. The outfielder sports a solid .407 average. He also holds team highs in slugging percentage (.630) and on-base percentage (.529). He usually hits clean-up, but at times has hit in the number five hole.

Third baseman Rocky Scelfo is batting .338. He usually hits down in the order. Scelfo leads the Crimson Tide in runs scored per at bat.

Centerfielder Emeel Salem leads the Crimson Tide in steals. He has ripped off eight of ten attempts. He is also hitting .333. Salem bats in the leadoff spot.

Evan Bush is hitting .295, but he leads the team in RBI's with 34. He also has ripped a team high eight home runs, as well as, walked 32 times, also an Alabama high. Bush usually hits third in the order.

The Gators were very offensive toward the Bulldogs this weekend, none more than third baseman Brandon McArthur. The Georgia press folks should have played the old Charlie Daniels hit, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" every time McArthur stepped into the batter's box. The Tampa native hit a devilish .666 (8-12) against Georgia in the series. McArthur's performance the past two weeks has seen his average has skyrocket to .341. It's a good thing that McArthur left the state before a warrant was executed on him.

Another Florida player who luckily emerged The Peach State without a bounty being placed on his head was Brian LeClerc. The sophomore from Clearwater went five for eleven (.455) and ripped five RBI's. He also drew three walks, raising his on base percentage to .403. It is terrific seeing the Gators get some everyday production from the lower half of the order.

Second baseman Adam Davis (5-13, .385) and first baseman Matt LaPorta (5-14, .357) also enjoyed success in Athens. Davis scored a team high six runs in the series. LaPorta smashed a home run and ripped three RBI's.

Despite not having a very good weekend, centerfielder Jeff Corsaletti still leads the squad with a .429 average. Corso is now second among SEC hitters who are not suspended. Ole Miss' Brian Pettway leads with a .432 average. Don't be surprised if Corso takes that title back this weekend.


Avg.

2B

3B

HR

Slug%

BB

SO

OB%

Florida

.309

55

4

41

.470

178

234

.418

Bama

.287

58

12

27

.427

129

215

.376

Fielding

For the second week in a row, Florida will face a team that has made more errors in the field than they have to this point. Kentucky is dead last in the conference rankings with 74 errors. Alabama, with 52 errors ranks 10th in the SEC. Bama's arch rivals at Auburn rank 11th in the conference with 59 errors.

Four Alabama players have committed six errors or more this season. Shortstop Cale Iorg and first/third baseman Evan Bush have committed seven errors each. Alan Rice and Rocky Scelfo have committed six errors each. Rice had seen time at second base, but has recently been the designated hitter. Scelfo continues to see more time at third base.

The Gators only have two players who have committed more than six errors. Adam Davis leads the team with 10 errors in 187 chances. Third baseman Brandon McArthur has committed seven errors in just 47 chances.


Chances

Errors

Fielding %

DP’s

SBA

CSB

Florida

1338

51

.962

31

17

21

Bama

1327

52

.961

30

42

18

Base Running

Alabama likes to run the bases and play a little small ball when necessary. The Crimson Tide has stolen 43 of 55 attempts (78.1%). They rank sixth in the conference, just behind the Gators, who are in the fifth spot. Florida catcher Brian "The Samurai" Jeroloman is among the nation's best at cutting down base runners. The Samurai has cut down an SEC high 55.2% of runners attempting to steal thus far.

The Gators should be able to run on Alabama. The Tide has allowed a conference high 42 stolen bases this season in 60 attempts (70%). Adam Davis (14) and Stephen Barton (12) account for 56% of the Gators stolen base counts in 2005. Look for Florida to run against the Tide with confidence.

Coaching

Coach Jim Wells is in his 10th year coaching for the Tide. Wells is the second winningest coach in Alabama history. He has taken the Crimson Tide to Omaha three times during that span, including a finish as the runner-up in 1997.

Florida Pat McMahon has all of the tools in Gainesville. He is also making the right calls. The Gators have Omaha chemistry and talent. If they can stay focused and take care of business, they won't go home early this season. McMahon will be the key to keeping them focused.

Intangibles

The Gators are 21-5 when playing in The Mac. Florida has won five of their last six conference games in Gainesville. Alabama is 5-7 on the road. However, the Tide did take two of three from Ole Miss on the road this past weekend.

Every weekend is huge in the America's premier baseball conference. This one is no different. The second and third place teams in the respective divisions also play key opponents. South Carolina and Vanderbilt will play in Columbia. Tennessee hosts the second place team in the west, Arkansas. These two games, coupled with the Alabama/Florida series should once again help shake up the conference standings.


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