PREVIEW: It all comes down to this

After nine weekends of battling, the SEC East and SEC Regular Season Championship all comes down to one weekend. The Gamecocks travel to Alabama for the final regular season SEC series of the season. Look inside for the most in-depth breakdown of the Crimson Tide that you'll find on the web.

Alabama Crimson Tide

Record: 31-22; Home: 24-6; Away: 7-12; Neutral: 0-4; SEC: 13-14

Stadium: Sewell Thomas Stadium (L-335; C-411; R-335).
Capacity: 6,571. Average Attendance: 3,920.


If you are playing a game of chance, like craps, the numbers 7-11 are considered to be a lucky bet. If you are a fan of Gamecock baseball, 7-11 is not necessarily a good omen as it relates to this weekend's venue… 7-11 is our record playing the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. Since the first series played on the University of Alabama campus after our induction into the conference, our W-L record, 7-11 (39% winning percentage) is one of the lowest winning percentages of all venues within the conference for us. There has been minimal "luck" in our number 7 at Tuscaloosa; time to change the story and create our own good fortunes at Sewell Thomas Stadium.

Most Bama baseball fans were wondering what their team's fate would be with the new BBCOR bats this year. For the most part, Bama played its own version of small ball, which meant getting guys on the base pads with a bunt, a hit, a sacrifice… then bring them home with the power of the top of their order, preferably by hitting a home run. They were prolific with multi-score innings and they've been able to challenge SEC foes with a similar version of offensive play, but with far less of the base clearing long ball.

They are ninth in team batting average among other SEC teams; Carolina is currently fifth. Their batting order from 1-4 has been extremely steady, hitting a collective .306 batting average against SEC pitching. The 5,6 and 7 spots in the batting order have been the toughest for Coach Gaspard. Trying to get the right bat in that part of the batting order will result in pinch hitters, pinch runners and position changes made. Jockeying for production has been fairly common. It reminds me eerily of Ole Miss and it concerns me that (like Ole Miss) we are playing in their confines as they are in a four-way tie with Mississippi State, Arkansas and Auburn for #1 in the SECw. They have something to play for this weekend, as do we.

Their SEC record in Sewell Thomas includes a sweep over Kentucky, a series win (66%) over Arkansas and LSU and a surprising series loss to Tennessee. Offensively, they like to take advantage of the starting line-up's prolific hitting abilities by getting their hits and runs early in a game. Most of the runs are scored in the first inning of a game; in most cases, within the first five innings they are most prolific adding to their lead. After the fifth inning, they taper off and this is where they become vulnerable. They are 2-19 if they are trailing after the sixth inning; 4-18 trailing after the 7th inning.

Their on-base percentage among SEC teams is currently 8th (.369); Carolina is #2 (.393). Bama has scored 280 runs against SEC competition and Carolina has scored 333 runs (3rd in SEC). Carolina has 303 runs batted in during SEC play and 3rd in the conference; Bama is 10th with 245. Bama is dead last in home run production (19 home runs)… a far, far cry from where they were last year with homers (they hit 66 home runs in '10).

Should they get a lead early in the game, your plan has to be to hold/serve them until your batting order can inflict some damage on their starting pitchers. Their starters can go the distance so your hitters have to be patient. An opportunity will always present itself. More on this when we look at their pitching staff, starters, relievers and closers.

Their bottom of the order (8-9) has remained the same for some time with Hunter Gregory (8th slot) providing a .175 batting average against SEC pitching, but he has been steady for them covering left field. Gregory also hits from the left side and Bama's line-up is predominantly (6 of 9) full of right handed hitters; Gregory's efforts can help them with match-ups against LHPs. Josh Sanders has hit a bit better against SEC pitching with a .273 batting average and is a good lead-in with senior experience, leading into the top of their batting order.

Here is a look at the Crimson Tide batting order; 1-9 are in the same order of their last weekend's game against Auburn in the Plains. The order could be subject to change:

1, Taylor Dugas CF (L/L, Jr.); .337BA, 205AB, 54r, 69h, 5HR, 26RBI, 33w, 19k (.439 obp).

41, Brock Bennett C (R/R, Sr.); .366BA, 186AB, 34r, 68h, 21RBI, 14w, 10k (.416 obp).

9, Jared Reaves SS (R/R, Jr.); .354BA, 198AB, 43r, 70h, 4HR, 44RBI, 23w, 28k (.427 obp).

18, Austin Smith 1B (R/R, Fr.); .298BA, 181AB, 20r, 54h, 4HR, 37RBI, 21w, 28k (.390 obp).

7, Brett Whittaker DH (R/R, Sr.); .250BA, 24AB, 1r, 6h, 1HR, 4RBI, 1w, 6k (.289 obp).

2, Andrew Miller LF/RF (L/L, So.); .273BA, 161AB, 24r, 44h, 22RBI, 14w, 27k (.372 obp).

5, Brett Booth 3B (R/R, So.); .235BA, 162AB, 19r, 38h, 1HR, 20RBI, 16w, 24k (.328 obp).

46, Hunter Gregory LF (L/R, Jr.); .182BA, 55AB, 6r, 10h, 8RBI, 10w, 6k (.308 obp).

35, Josh Sanders 2B (R/R, Sr.); .206BA, 68AB, 8r, 14h, 2RBI, 7w, 20k (.280 obp).

20 Patrick McGavin 1B (L/L, Fr.); .256BA, 43AB, 6r, 11h, 3RBI, 2w, 17k (.289 obp).

13, David Kindred DH (L/R, Sr.); .259BA, 85AB, 7r, 22h, 8RBI, 5w, 19k (.309 obp).

12, Brandt Hendricks RF (R/R, So.); .208BA, 72AB, 5r, 15h, 1HR, 9RBI, 11w, 27k (.360 obp).

6, Josh Rosecrans RHP/DH (R/R, Jr.); .243BA, 107AB, 13r, 26h, 3HR, 19RBI, 13w, 29k (.336 obp).

39, James Tullidge 2B (R/R, Jr.); .167BA, 66AB, 11r, 11h, 7RBI, 11w, 17k (.295 obp).

40, Jeremiah Tullidge LF (L/L, Fr.); .162BA, 37AB, 7r, 6h, 4RBI, 8w, 10k (.311 obp).

10, Jon Kelton 1B (L/R, Jr.); .234BA, 64AB, 10r, 15h, 9RBI, 4w, 10k (.324 obp).

Totals:

Bama (team) Batting Average: .279
Opponent (team) batting average: .260
Bama (team) On Base Percentage: .369
Opponent (team) On Base Percentage: .320

Alabama pitching features solid weekend starters, with competitive ERA's and WHIPs below 1.40. Nathan Kilcrease is their Senior RHP who most assuredly will go up against Michael Roth in our Thursday evening match-up. Nathan Kilcrease, nicknamed "peanut" (height is 5'6") has a bulldog tenacity that is contained in a small frame. He enjoys attacking the strike zone and is extremely aggressive; will come inside with his pitches and enjoys keeping opposing hitters uncomfortable at the plate.

Kilcrease threw a complete game shut out against Kentucky earlier this year, taking opposing pitcher Alex Meyer to task that night. He will throw his fastball in the low 90s to keep optimal control over the pitch and where it lands in the strike zone. He has very good command and control of his pitches. He will use off-speed pitches, using a slider and an effective change-up, to get third strikes. He is known for making short work with his innings. Against Ole Miss, he threw only 45 pitches to end a fifth hitless inning against the Rebels.

When Kilcrease is on, he is hard to hit. One can surmise that the attitude comes from his role as the Crimson Tide closer from last year's squad. He will still use his two-seam fastball thrown to the outside of the plate to induce grounders for outs. He is an extremely challenging right-hander to hit.

Their Friday pitcher (typically pitches Saturdays) is Junior LHP Adam Morgan. Morgan's dad was a pitcher for the '83 Tide team, a team that was National Champion runner-up in the '83 CWS. Pitching for the Tide is in his blood and he throws a lot of strikes; he is particularly tough on left-handed hitters.

Morgan throws a fastball @ 88-90 mph along with a breaking ball (curveball) that has excellent location. He retired 10 consecutive LSU batters in his last showing in Tuscaloosa; his first runner on base was a walked batter… to start the seventh inning. Good location, good control and a dangerous pitcher in the confines of Sewell Thomas Stadium. He will work for first strikes with his fastball and will induce a slider to register k's with left-handed hitters. Typically, right-handed batters will see his curve, which is his out pitch.

Senior RHP Jonathon Smart is a man of many hats. Typically, you will find "Smarty" starting as the Tide's Sunday pitcher. But, quite often he will get the call to close a game (before his Sunday start) and if that is the case, his use as a starter will be burned for relief/close a game on a Friday or Saturday (possibly both days). Such was the case against MSU (in Starkville); his efforts were needed to assure Bama of a Friday and Saturday win. He threw as a closer for a total 3.2 innings over two days, burning his Sunday start. Unfortunately, they lost the Sunday game when Taylor Wolfe got the Sunday start. Smart currently has 7 saves in SEC games played and 3-1 in-conference record.

He is not a typical closer in that you would expect someone with 7 saves in SEC play might have a "killer" fastball in the mid-90s; quite the contrary with Smart. His "fastball" is more like an off-speed pitch with just a little more juice… it comes in over the plate at a little more than 80 mph… yes, a LITTLE MORE than 80 MPH! It is a slow pitch that finds the strike zone with regularity.

Given the speed and lack of velocity, he maintains extremely accurate throws to the strike zone (his WHIP is the best on the team at 1.13). Smart is confident in what he will show a hitter; every pitch is off-speed. He uses a sweeping curveball and relies on varying pitch speeds and pitch locations. He will work the ball in on a hitter… to the point he will sometimes hit them… or work the ball to the outside. His one weakness is he cannot afford to miss over the middle of the plate because if he does, it is a "mistake" served up over the fence. Hence, he will pitch to limit the "mistake pitch" by pitching slow off-speed pitches while maintaining excellent control/command of pitch locations.

Sophomore LHP Taylor Wolfe has been the one relied upon for Sunday games missed by Smart, given Smart's duties as the Tide's primary closer. Sometimes Wolfe is as predictable as the inside fastball that he will throw as his first pitch to a batter. Last year, Wolfe's fastball comes in around 80-84 mph. He worked out over the Fall and Winter, got the velocity up on his fastball to the point that it comes in around 90 mph.

Wolfe lives… and dies… by the fastball. If he is on, he is tough to hit. But no one is a one-pitch wonder this year given the new bats. It could be the reason why he threw over 110 pitches in 5.2 innings in a losing effort to MSU during his most recent Sunday start. Since then, Smart has gotten the starts and Wolfe has been relegated back to weekday starts.

These relief pitchers will get some playing time this weekend… early inning relief is usually handled by Sophomore LHP Adam Windsor. Windsor will typically come in as a second reliever and is used primarily (as needed) in Friday/Saturday games behind Kilcrease or Morgan. Windsor's current ERA in SEC play is 11.17, with an 0-2 record in 9.2 innings pitched. A struggle with consistency of pitches doesn't keep him from being inserted regularly for short stints (typically 1.1 innings/game).

Sophomore RHP Trey Pilkington has a similar role as Windsor as a relief pitcher coming in during early innings, job description is to serve/hold until they can get to late inning relief. Pilkington's 4.82 ERA against SEC opposition is the best among Bama relievers that have pitched double-digit innings. He will typically give the Tide an average of 1.1 innings in relief. Senior RHP Charley Sullivan has seen a little more time on the bump for the Tide as a reliever. He has a 2.45 ERA against SEC opposition and has pitched a little over 7 innings in early relief.

Sophomore RHP Tucker Hawley got his first win in relief against Auburn last weekend, going a little over 2.0 innings. All together, Hawley has over 20 innings of accumulated relief pitching (weekdays mostly) and it would seem that he could become a new option for late inning relief. Hawley has a 5.31 ERA against SEC hitting. Junior RHP Josh Rosecrans has been used quite a bit in less than one inning work (less than a full inning; usually to get a specific batter out). He has appeared in late inning work and has an 8.31 ERA in SEC play.

Here are Tide pitchers who have seen weekend action this season. Their statistics and information pertains to all games played to date:

28, Nathan Kilcrease RHP (R/R, Sr.); 3.74ERA, 5-4, 77.IP, 84h, 38r(32e), 20w, 63k (.275oba; WHIP:1.35).

32, Adam Morgan LHP (L/L, Jr.); 3.89ERA, 5-4, 81.IP, 77h, 38r(35e), 21w, 67k (.252oba; WHIP:1.21)

26, Jonathon Smart RHP (R/R, Sr.); 2.21ERA, 4-1, 9SV, 61.IP, 56h, 17r(15e), 13w, 33k (.247oba; WHIP:1.13).

21, Adam Windsor LHP (L/L, So.); 4.35ERA, 3-2, 31.IP, 29h, 20r(15e), 5w, 10k (.257 oba).

27, Taylor Wolfe LHP (L/L, So.); 4.47ERA, 1-2 1SV, 46.1IP, 38h, 25r(23e), 19w, 48k (.212oba; WHIP:1.45).

11, Trey Pilkington RHP (R/R, So.); 4.38ERA, 2-3, 39.IP, 38h, 21r(19e), 11w, 17k (.268 oba).

29, Charley Sullivan RHP (R/R, Sr.); 3.03ERA, 2-2, 29.2IP, 37h, 14r(10e), 11w, 23k (.308 oba).

22, Nathan Kennedy RHP (R/R, Jr.); 4.11ERA, 1-0, 1SV, 15.1IP, 20h, 11r(7e), 7w, 9k (.328 oba).

6, Josh Rosecrans RHP (R/R, Jr.); 5.14ERA, 0-0, 7.IP, 11h, 5r(4e), 3w, 5k (.355 oba).

44, Tucker Hawley RHP (R/R, So.); 3.57ERA, 6-2, 45.1IP, 43h, 19r(18e), 6w, 29k (.251 oba).

7, Brett Whittaker RHP (R/R, Sr.); 2.70ERA, 1-0, 2SV, 16.2IP, 14h, 7r(5e), 6w, 17k (.215 oba).

Totals:

Bama (team) ERA: 3.80
Opponent (team) ERA: 4.59
Bama (team) On Base Average: .260
Opponent (team) On Base Average: .279

In summary, Alabama's starting pitchers are a talented group. But there exists a tendency for Tide leads to shrink or fade once the bullpen gets involved. Our success against the Tide depends upon how well we can hit their starters and get them off of their game by keeping them uncomfortable with what they are throwing to us. As a team, we do a pretty good job of this and I have been impressed with the amount of production we have gotten from our bench over the past few weeks.

For sure, the only set back we could have is if we play this series as we did against Ole Miss… with a lethargic attitude against a pitcher or two that had a successful series against our hitters. This Yardcock team looks far from being lethargic; our defense is strong and I suspect it is capable of taking 2 of 3 games from the Tide in Tuscaloosa. It is known that the new bats have placed much emphasis on the value of pitching and I sincerely believe this is our edge over Alabama; from our starters, to middle relief and our closers to end a game. We have an edge over Bama in pitching and defense.

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