LSU, Bama fight for western division lead

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The LSU baseball team puts its first place status in the Southeastern Conference on the line this weekend when the Fighting Tigers renew their rivalry with West division rival Alabama in a three-game series starting Friday at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.

First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. on Friday, followed by games at 4 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Saturday's contest follows Alabama's A-Day spring football game, which takes place at 1 p.m. at Bryant-Denny Stadium. This will be the Crimson Tide's first spring game under new coach Mike Price, who replaced Dennis Franchione in December.

All three games can be heard live on the full LSU Sports Network (WDGL-98.1 FM in Baton Rouge), and live audio and statistics from each game will be available on the Internet at Sunday's game will also be televised in Louisiana by Jumbo Sports Network (cable channel 10 in Baton Rouge).

LSU (16-8-1, 5-0-1) enters the weekend after suffering a 5-4 loss to the University of New Orleans on Tuesday night at Zephyr Field in Metairie, just the Tigers' second loss in their last 13 contests following a 6-6 start. The Tigers have bolted to the top of the SEC on the strength of a 2-0-1 series at home against Florida to open conference play, followed by a three-game sweep last weekend at Georgia.

LSU has won its last six SEC series dating back to last April, and the Tigers have won 14 of their last 18 conference road series dating back to their last regular season series loss at Alabama in 1999.

The Tigers' pitching rotation will be the same as it was for the Georgia series, with junior right-hander
Brian Wilson (5-2, 3.14) getting the call on Friday, senior right-hander Bo Pettit (4-0, 2.32) going on Saturday and junior right-hander Nate Bumstead (2-1, 4.81) set to go on Sunday. Bumstead made his first SEC appearance last Sunday at Georgia and struck out a career high eight batters over eight innings to pick up the win.

LSU's top hitter continues to be junior shortstop
Aaron Hill, who enters the Alabama series on a 13-game hitting streak, batting .440 during the tear to raise his season batting average to a team high .368, 100 points higher than it was prior to the streak. Hill leads LSU in nine offensive categories, including RBI (21) and on-base percentage (.509).

Alabama (19-5, 4-2) won its first four conference games by sweeping Georgia in Tuscaloosa and winning the series opener last weekend at Florida, but the Gators handed the Crimson Tide 6-1 and 6-5 losses after Alabama won the series opener in Gainesville 8-3. The Tide bounced back with a 15-8 victory at UAB on Wednesday.

Coach Jim Wells' squad is the only team to defeat top-ranked Rice this season, defeating the Owls 6-4 on February 16 in the Houston Astros College Classic at Minute Maid Park. Rice (25-1), which swept LSU in last year's super regional at Houston, has won 22 consecutive games since losing to the Tide.

Wells will start two of the top left-handed pitchers in college baseball in the first two games of the series, going with sophomore Taylor Tankersley (4-0, 2.41) on Friday and sophomore Brent Carter (4-2, 2.42) on Saturday. Wells was uncertain of a Sunday starter, but it will likely be either junior left-hander Jeffrey Norris (2-1, 6.04) or freshman right-hander Allen Ponder (2-1, 3.00).

Alabama leads the SEC with 32 home runs and is batting a solid .314 as a team. Leading the way for the Tide are a pair of returning veterans in junior shortstop Adam Pavkovich (.393) and senior right fielder Beau Hearod (.360). Hearod, a native of Jennings who started his career at Tulane, leads the Tide with nine home runs and 41 RBI. Pavkovich (7 home runs), second baseman Allen Rice and designated hitter Al Hecklinski (both with 5 home runs) all join Hearod in providing Alabama with credible power threats.

The Crimson Tide holds a 180-133-3 lead in the series that dates back to 1906, but LSU has won the last eight meetings, including a three-game sweep last year (3-0, 6-5, 5-1) to close the regular season at Alex Box Stadium. The Tigers swept the teams' last series in Tuscaloosa in 2001 (4-2, 8-7, 8-3) and have not lost to Alabama since a 14-0 defeat on May 14, 2000 in the regular season finale.

Wells, a graduate assistant coach at LSU under Skip Bertman from 1987-89, is 15-18 against LSU in his eight previous seasons at Alabama, while LSU coach
Smoke Laval is 5-4 against the Tide, including a 2-4 mark as the coach at Louisiana-Monroe from 1994 to 2000.

LSU returns to Alex Box Stadium on Wednesday to host Nicholls St. before hosting defending SEC champion South Carolina in a three-game series next weekend.

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