Alabama Baseball Plays Arkansas to Open SEC Tournament

ROLLTIDEDOTCOM Reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week Nathan Kilcrease gets the ball to open SEC Tournament.
Reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week Nathan Kilcrease gets the ball to open SEC Tournament.

May 24, 2011

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The Alabama baseball team (33-24, 14-16 SEC) returns to Regions Park for the seventh straight season to compete in the 2011 Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament. The Crimson Tide will open the tournament on Wednesday, May 25 against the SEC Western Division regular season champs and No. 18-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks (36-18, 15-15). First pitch for game one of the tournament is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. CT and will be televised on CSS.

ALABAMA (32-24, 14-16 SEC) VS.  #18 ARKANSAS (36-18, 15-15 SEC)
GAME 57 • WEDNESDAY, MAY 25 • 9:30 A.M. CT

Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network (CTSN)
Play-by-Play: Chris Stewart and Lee Tracey
Stations: WFFN-FM 95.3, WTSK-AM 790- Tuscaloosa, and CTSN Affiliates
Streaming Audio:
Live Stats:

Probable Starting Pitchers
Thursday, May 25
RHP, Nathan Kilcrease (6-4, 3.25 ERA) vs. LHP, Randall Fant (3-3, 3.24 ERA)

Kilcrease Named SEC Pitcher of the Week
After throwing a complete game against No. 2 South Carolina on May 19, senior right-handed pitcher Nathan Kilcrease was selected as the SEC Pitcher of the Week. Kilcrease outdueled USC ace Michael Roth for a 2-1 win, allowing just five hits (one extra-base hit) and one unearned run in his second complete game of the season and third of his career. Kilcrease allowed one hit in the final four innings and retired 12 of the final 15 batters he faced. It was the first time in his career that Kilcrease earned the conference's weekly pitching honor.

Alabama in the SEC Tournament
Since the inception of the SEC Baseball Tournament in 1977, Alabama has advanced to the conference tournament 24 times, with 2011 marking the seventh straight appearance. The Crimson Tide has a 42-34 record in the tournament. UA is second among the 12 SEC schools with seven tournament titles (1983, 95, 96, 97, 99, 2002, & 03). From 1950-76, Alabama appeared in seven SEC Playoff series, posting a 9-10 record with three championships (1950, 55, & 68).

Arkansas Razorbacks at a Glance
The Arkansas Razorbacks enter the SEC Baseball Tournament as the No. 2 seed after winning the Western Division regular season title with a 15-15 record. Arkansas scored three runs in the sixth inning on Saturday to defeat Mississippi 5-3 to finish alone at the top of the West standings. Arkansas, 36-18 overall, is ranked No. 18 in the NCBWA and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls, No. 22 in the Collegiate Baseball News rankings, and No. 23 by Baseball America. As a team, Arkansas is 12th in the SEC with a .270 batting average. Only two regular players are hitting over .300 this season, with freshman first baseman Dominic Ficociello leading the way with a .359 average. Ficociello also leads the team with 57 RBI and 15 doubles. Catcher James McCann is hitting .309 with six home runs, 29 RBI and 33 runs scored. Kyle Robinson has eight home runs to lead the team and Collin Kuhn has seven round trippers. DJ Baxendale has been the star on the mound, posting an 8-2 record with a 1.62 ERA. Baxendale has 67 strikeouts and 16 walks in 72.1 innings. Randall Fant has a 3-3 record with a 3.24 ERA in 66.2 innings pitched. Brandon Moore, who leads the team with 11 starts this season, has a 4-1 record with a 3.97 ERA in 56.2 innings. 

Series History Versus Arkansas
Alabama and Arkansas have met on the diamond 65 times and the Crimson Tide have come away victorious in 40 of those games. Alabama won the series, 2-1, when the teams met in Tuscaloosa April 1-3. The last 10 games have been evenly matched with each team winning five games. Last season, the Razorbacks swept Alabama in Fayetteville. UA and Arkansas have met in the SEC Tournament six times, with Alabama holding a 4-2 advantage in the postseason. Arkansas defeated the Crimson Tide 6-0 in the most recent SEC Tournament matchup in the first round in 2006.

Team and Player Notes:
Alabama posted a 1-2 record in a week, dropping a SEC series to the No. 2-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks ... with the win over South Carolina on Thursday, Alabama clinched a berth in SEC Tournament for the seventh straight year ... the win over the No. 2 team in the country marked the Tide's fourth win of the season against a ranked opponent, UA is 4-10 in games against ranked opponents this season ... the UA pitching staff held South Carolina to 3.3 runs per game and a .286 batting average for the series ... Alabama was 14-16 in SEC play and finished tied for second in the SEC Western Division with Auburn and Mississippi State ... Alabama enters the SEC Baseball Tournament as the seven seed for the second straight year.

Hitting Notes
Junior center fielder Taylor Dugas paced the Tide with a .500 average (4-for-8) with five walks and a hit-by-pitch in the series against South Carolina ... Dugas finished the series with a .714 on-base percentage, had a double, a RBI and one run scored in the three games ... now has 19 doubles for the season to tie for the team lead ... ranks seventh all-time at Alabama with 54 career doubles ... with four hits on the weekend, Dugas ranks 10th all-time at Alabama in career hits with 252 ... Dugas has 186 runs for his career to rank eighth all-time at UA ... Dugas posted a .317 average during SEC play to lead the team ... for the season, he leads the team with five home runs, 19 doubles, 55 runs scored, four triples, 73 hits, a .540 slugging percentage and a .453 on-base percentage ... sophomore third baseman Brett Booth posted a .455 average for the weekend, going 5-for-11 with three doubles and three RBI in the series vs. No. 2 South Carolina ... drove in the game-winning run with a two-RBI double in the bottom of the first inning on Thursday, helping UA post a 2-1 win over the Gamecocks ... now has eight multiple-hit games this season and 11 for his career. Hunter Gregory was 4-for-10 (.400) for the series and had two hits in games one and two of the series, notching his first multi-hit games of his career ... was also 1-for-1 in stolen base attempts ... junior shortstop Jared Reaves had a pair of doubles in game two of the series to give him 19 for the season, tying him with Dugas for the team lead ... also scored a pair of runs to give him 45 runs scored for the season ... finished the regular season with a team high 44 RBI, with four home runs and two triples ... leads the team with 25 multiple-hit performances and is third on the team with a .341 average for the season ... senior catcher Brock Bennett finished the regular season with a team-high .354 batting average ... Bennett is third on the team with 70 hits, with six doubles and 22 RBI ... Bennett had one sacrifice bunt in the series to extend his Alabama single-season record to 19, which ranks second in the country ... is second on the team with 24 multiple-hit games ... junior outfielder Jon Kelton pinch-hit in the ninth inning on Sunday, making his first plate appearance since breaking his foot against Kentucky on March 26 ... freshman first baseman/designated hitter Austen Smith was 3-for-11 in the series against South Carolina and finished the regular season with a .297 average (fourth on the team) ... he was second on the team with a .312 average during SEC play ... also added a double, a RBI and scored a run in the series with the Gamecocks ... led the Tide with 19 RBI during conference play, was second with 34 hits and third with six doubles ... finished the regular season with 16 multiple-hit games.

Pitching Notes
In his only start of the week, senior right-handed pitcher Nathan Kilcrease threw a complete game, allowing just one unearned run to the No. 2-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks on Thursday night ... the five-foot, six-inch right hander, used 113 pitches to record his sixth win of the season ... gave up just five hits (one extra-base hit) to a team that averaged 10 hits per game entering the series, while striking out five hitters ... the win for the Crimson Tide clinched the seventh consecutive berth in the SEC Baseball Tournament ... it was Kilcrease's second complete game of the season ... posted his 21st career win, moving him into eighth all-time at Alabama ... made his 86th career appearance and is one off the school record held by Lance Cormier ... sophomore right-hander Tucker Hawley closed out Sunday's series finale, retiring the two batters he faced on five pitches ... it was Hawley's second appearance since missing six weeks with arm fatigue ... senior lefty Jonathan Smart threw 8.1 innings, allowing three runs on a dozen hits in his fifth start of the season on Sunday ... Smart leads the team with 27 appearances with nine saves to rank tied for fourth in both categories in the SEC ... Smart has a team-best 2.34 ERA (5th SEC) in 69.1 innings pitch with 35 strikeouts and a .260 opponent batting average ... junior lefty Adam Morgan threw 7.0 innings, throwing his 11th straight quality start ... Morgan has thrown at least six innings in his last 11 starts ... allowed three earned runs on nine hits with four strikeouts in game two of the series against South Carolina ... Morgan has a 5-5 record with a 3.89 ERA, and leads the team with 88.0 innings pitched and 71 strikeouts ... sophomore righty Trey Pilkington pitched a scoreless ninth inning two close out game two of the series against South Carolina ... it was Pilkington's 18th appearance of the season, which is second on the team.

Bennett Leads Club in Hitting
Senior catcher Brock Bennett finished the regular season with a .354 batting average to lead the Crimson Tide and rank 10th in the SEC. Bennett is third on the team with 70 hits, which include six doubles, and 35 runs scored, while his 22 RBI are sixth on the squad. Bennett has hit safely in 42 of 52 games, including 12 of the last 13. He had nine straight games with at least two hits from April 26-May 14 and his 24 multi-hit games rank second on the team.

Bennett Moves Them Over
This season Brock Bennett has put down 19 sacrifice bunts to lead the Crimson Tide and the SEC. His Alabama single-season record 19 sac bunts ranks second in the nation, just one behind Northern Colorado's Brett Fanning. Bennett entered the season with seven sac bunts and now has 26 for his career. With one sac bunt in the series against South Carolina he tied Greg Paiml (2004-07) for second all-time at Alabama. He needs two more sac bunts to tie Allen Rice (2002-05) for the all-time record.

Jared Reaves Heating Up Over Last Four Weeks
Over the last 22 games, junior shortstop Jared Reaves leads the team with a .372 (32-for-86) average, with team-highs in doubles (10), home runs (3), RBI (19) and is second in runs scored (20). He now has 19 doubles, which is tied for the team lead and third in the SEC. Additionally, he has a .593 slugging percentage and a .444 on-base percentage, hitting safely in 18 of the last 22 games.

Austen Smith Hitting His Stride
In the last 22 games, freshman first baseman/designated hitter Austen Smith is hitting .368 (28-for-76) with a five doubles, a triple, two home runs (including a grand slam against LSU on Sunday), with 13 RBI and nine runs scored. On March 18, Smith was batting .235, since then (36 games), Smith is hitting .321 (41-for-126) and has seen his average climb to .297 for the season. 

Booth Catches Fire to Close Out Regular Season
Over the past six games, sophomore third baseman Brett Booth is hitting at a .391 clip (9-for-23), and has hit safely in five of the six games. He recorded his first three-hit game of his career against Auburn on May 14, and had back-to-back two-hit games to wrap up the series against South Carolina. He was 4-for-12 (.333) against Auburn and 5-for-11 (.455) in the series versus South Carolina.
Smith Second on Squad in Average During SEC Play
Austen Smith's hot hitting over the past 36 games has translated into a .312 batting average during Southeastern Conference competition. In 30 SEC games, Smith has 34 hits in 109 at-bats and led the team with 19 RBI. Additionally, he has six doubles, a triple and a home run for a .413 slugging percentage, which ranks third for UA during SEC outings.

Jonathan Smart Named To Stopper of the Year Watch List
Senior left-handed pitcher Jonathan Smart was named to the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Midseason Watch List. Smart, who is one of 46 Division I pitchers selected to the list, leads the Tide and is fourth in the SEC with nine saves. He has a 4-2 record with a 2.34 ERA in 69.1 innings pitched, and his team-high 27 appearances (including five starts) ranks fourth in the conference. Smart has converted all nine save opportunities this season and has finished 17 games for Alabama.

Dugas in the Record Books
In three seasons at Alabama, All-American outfielder Taylor Dugas continues to put up outstanding numbers for the Tide. When Dugas recorded his second hit against Eastern Illinois on March 13, he notched his 200th hit at Alabama, becoming the 19th player in school history to reach the 200-hit mark. The career .364 hitter currently ranks seventh all-time in batting average.

On Deck for the Tide
Following the completion of the SEC Tournament, the postseason fate for the Alabama will be determined. Should the Tide capture its eighth SEC Tournament title, UA would automatically advance to the NCAA Tournament. Should Alabama fall short of a tournament victory, then the Tide will wait to see if an at-large bid will be theirs. The national seeds (16 teams) will be announced on Sunday at 2:30 CT, with the full 64-team field to follow on Monday at 11:30 a.m. CT.