Tuscaloosa Regional Capsule

No. 1 Alabama (41-19)
15th appearance, at-large, tied for Southeastern regular season, No. 4 national seed

No. 2 Troy (45-14)
Third appearance, automatic, won Sun Belt regular season and tournament

No. 3 Southern Mississippi (38-21)
Seventh appearance, at-large, Conference USA

No. 4 Jacksonville State (35-22)
Second appearance, automatic, won Ohio Valley tournament

While Kentucky won its division in the SEC with an attack that evoked LSU’s gorilla ball, Alabama
won its division and tied UK atop the conference with a style more
familiar to fans on the West Coast. The Crimson Tide rolled three big
arms out each weekend in juniors Wade LeBlanc (10, 2.72, 116
strikeouts) and Bernard Robert (7-6, 4.74) and freshman Tommy Hunter
(10-3, 3.19), and they helped the Tide top the SEC with a 3.42 ERA
(12th nationally). The offense is more opportunistic than consistent,
with sparkplug Emeel Salem (.362, 33 steals) atop an order that scored
the second-fewest runs of any SEC team in the NCAA tournament. Catcher
Kody Valverde provided the thunder with 11 homers, but no other Alabama
hitter topped six homers or a .306 average. Coach Jim Wells said after
the SEC tournament that he could get nervous if the Tide got pushed to
a fourth game in the regional, because he’s not sure who gets the ball
after his Big Three have pitched.

Alabama’s flagship school possesses the best arms in the SEC, but head south in the state where Troy
lead the nation with 555 runs, or 9.4 per game. South Carolina transfer
Tommy King played shortstop and hit .416 and led the nation with 34
doubles to spark an offense that batted a collective .335. Corner
infielder Josh Dew hit 17 homers, and Auburn transfer Mike Felix batted
.382 as a corner outfielder. The duo also excelled on the mound in
relief Felix serving as Troy’s best pitcher with a 9-3, 3.46 record and
four saves thanks to a low-90s fastball, while Dew led the team with
five saves while going 5-1, 2.72. Despite the gaudy offensive numbers
in its first year as a Sun Belt member, Troy didn’t do as much at the
plate against top competition. The Trojans scored a midweek win against
Alabama, but got swept at Southern Mississippi in its most difficult
non-conference series of the season. It also lost a single game to
Michigan in its only other non-league game against a team that made the
2006 NCAA field.

Troy will see that same Southern Mississippi
team on the first day of the tournament. The Golden Eagles held the
Trojans to four runs over 29 innings in the sweep, and no one confused
the Southern Miss pitching staff with that of Rice during the season.
In fact, Southern Miss posted a 4.75 team ERA, but won games thanks to
an offense nearly as productive as Troy’s. The Golden Eagles averaged
more than eight runs per game on the strength of 76 homers (seventh
among tournament teams), 18 of them coming off the bat of senior Marc
Maddox. Center fielder Toddric Johnson tacked on 10 jacks while batting
.366. Most of those homers came in the friendly confines of Pete Taylor
Park (340 feet down the lines and 365 to the power alleys), where USM
went 27-8. It struggled to an 8-12 road mark.

Jacksonville State
doesn’t have the complement of bats or arms it needs to win here, but
sophomore righthander Donovan Hand, who ranked third in the OVC with
nine wins, a 2.58 ERA and 88 strikeouts, could keep the opener close
before giving way to the two-Drink minimum bullpen of brothers Lee
(2-3, 4.12) and Tony (4-4, 3.50, four saves) Drinkard, a lefty-righty
combo. JSU also led the league with a .308 average and 420 runs behind
junior outfielder Nick Clecker’s .380 clip and 62 runs.