Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Alabama Baseball Prepares for Important Stretch Run for Shot at SEC Crown

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Alabama Baseball Prepares for Important Stretch Run for Shot at SEC Crown

Article excerpt

It has been years since the nine-game SEC backstretch has meant so much to the University of Alabama.

For the first time in head coach Mitch Gaspard's tenure, Alabama (30-15, 13-8 SEC) heads into its final three SEC series with a winning conference record and the SEC West division lead.

It hasn't won the West or a share of the SEC crown in seven seasons.

Alabama sits just two games back of Florida for the overall conference lead, and it controls its own destiny for the title. It hasn't won an outright SEC regular season title in 18 years.

Because of this year's success, the games are huge from this point forward, and the SEC outright lead could be Alabama's if all things go well this weekend as a massive series against the No. 5- ranked Gators starts in Tuscaloosa tonight.

"Really our message to the team has been as to embrace this opportunity that we have," Gaspard said. "We've done a good job to put ourselves in this position right now with three weekend series left, and we really want to embrace that opportunity moving forward."

Sitting at 13-8 in the toughest league in the country and ranked No. 12 nationally, Alabama is, at least to date, in the midst of its best season since 2006. That year, it won the SEC West at 20-10, hosted an NCAA Regional and came up one win of a trip to the College World Series.

Matching that type of success is very much in play. Alabama has used a steady pitching rotation, arguably the top freshman closer in the country in Thomas Burrows and a streaky, yet powerful lineup -- it ranks second in the SEC in home runs (34) and third in slugging percentage (.399) and total bases (618) -- to put itself in position.

For perspective on what kind of uptick 2014 has been, in the past 14 seasons, Alabama has won 16 SEC games or fewer 10 times. Even a sub-.500 finish to league play this year would get Alabama to 17- 13.

There's no doubt the team is enjoying a big year, but Gaspard and his players know that plenty of work remains.

It starts with a brutal schedule to end SEC play, one that began with last week's series at No. 9 South Carolina (Alabama took one of three games).

UA hosts a Gator team (30-15, 15-6 SEC) that has won seven straight SEC games entering tonight. …

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