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Tide can solidify NCAA trip with SEC tourney wins

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

It's the baseball adage. But the famous "we need to take it one game at a time," made fun of in the Kevin Costner film "Bull Durham," actually applies to Alabama in the Southeastern Baseball Tournament.

Right now, Alabama (31-24, 15-15 SEC) is considered a quasi-bubble team to make the 64-team NCAA tournament field.

The No. 7-seeded Tide will look to solidify its spot in the NCAA event, starting with its game against No. 3 Arkansas (38-18, 18-12 SEC) on Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Regions Park in Hoover.

Alabama is expected to start Tommy Hunter (7-4, 3.59 ERA). Arkansas is expected to hand the ball to Nick Schmidt (9-3, 3.08)

"We are preparing to win that game," said designated hitter Alex Avila. "With that mindset, we should continue to focus and be consistent with an inning-by-inning approach."

After winning three of its last four series against South Carolina, Arkansas and Mississippi State, the Tide should make it into the tournament even with two losses in the SEC tournament. But winning will only help its case.

"I think they are in," said Aaron Fitt, assistant editor with Baseball America. "I don't want to use the word solidly. I think they are in tentatively.

"I think it would help to win one game in the SEC tournament. With one win, they can breathe easily."

According to Fitt, Alabama is seen as a No. 3 seed.

But if it can make some noise, the Tide can move up to a No. 2 seed.

While Alabama is coming into the tournament on a roll, the team is aware of what it needs to do in order to erase doubts about its NCAA status.

The Tide sits 57th in the most recent ratings power index, according to boydsworld.com, a college baseball Web site, and there is a possibility that if it loses two games, it could drop.

Despite not making the SEC tournament, Kentucky is rated one slot higher than the Tide at 56. Auburn is 45th.

"We have to win," said Alabama coach Jim Wells. "How many games? Different people have different ideas on that. Certainly we have to win some games."

While the RPI is an indicator of a team's relative strength, it's not the only tool the selection committee uses.

Alabama's play down the stretch against some top opponents in a conference that routinely gets seven or eight teams in the tournament will play a role.

Also, if Florida (28-28, 15-15 SEC) finishes under .500 on the season, it will be ineligible to make the NCAA tournament, bolstering Alabama's case.

"One of the advantages of playing in the SEC is that Alabama could prove itself against South Carolina, Arkansas and Mississippi State," Fitt said. "They won the series against all three of those teams, and all of a sudden, they are starting to look like a regional team. In another conference, you don't have a chance to prove yourself against teams like those."

SEC baseball tournament

Pairings for the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament at Hoover.

Wednesday

10 a.m., No. 7 Alabama vs. No. 2 Arkansas

1 p.m., No. 6 Florida vs. No. 3 South Carolina

5 p.m., No. 8 Tennessee vs. No. 1 Vanderbilt

8 p.m., No. 5 Ole Miss vs. No. 4 Mississippi State

Thursday

10 a.m., Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2

1 p.m., Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4

5 p.m., Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2

8 p.m., Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4

Friday

3 p.m., Winner Game 5 vs. Loser Game 7

6:30 p.m., Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 8

Saturday

10 a.m., Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 9

1 p.m., Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 10

5 p.m., Winner Game 11 vs. Loser Game 11

8 p.m., Winner Game 12 vs. Loser Game 12

Sunday

3 p.m., Winner Game 13 vs. Winner Game 14

If both bracket winners are undefeated, there will be no 5 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. games Saturday.

The Associated Press

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