News from the Tennessee Valley Sports
FRIDAY, MAY 12, 2006

Tide, AU working to fight out of slumps

By Kyle Veazey
DAILY Sports Writer 340-2460

Despite all the well-known differences between the two schools, Alabama's and Auburn's baseball coaches both have one painful thing in mind today: How to get their teams back from the low of a three-game sweep last weekend.

The Crimson Tide (34-16, 15-9 SEC), now one game back from Kentucky in the overall league standings, hosts Florida (25-25, 7-17) in a three-game set starting tonight at 6.

Auburn (22-28, 9-15) hosts Georgia (31-16, 13-11) for the weekend starting tonight at 7.

But for Alabama, much more is on the line. If last weekend's sweep signaled a late-season swoon, the Tide's national stock — as in its ability to host a super regional or a regional — could keep falling. Right now, Alabama is No. 8 in the Collegiate Baseball poll, and it fell from No. 6 to No. 12 in the Baseball America poll.

"(We're) coming out of a drug-induced state," Alabama's Jim Wells said Thursday with a laugh. "We had two good practices and we'll get back out there today and that's part of the way it is in this league sometime. That's over with. There's a lot of disappointment."

Wells added, "We've covered that, and you have to do your speaking through the practice and the organization of it and what you get out of it."

Alabama will send Wade LeBlanc (7-0, 3.02 ERA) to the mound tonight against Florida's Bryan Augenstein (8-5, 3.13), who was just moved from his role as Saturday starter. Bernard Robert (6-4, 4.89) will continue to keep the Tide's Saturday starting spot, though Wells said he's debated moving Tommy Hunter into that role.

Hunter (7-3, 3.29), a freshman, will start Sunday.

Bryan Ball (4-8, 5.10) will start for the Gators on Saturday, and while coach Pat McMahon hasn't named a Sunday starter, it's likely to be Stephen Porter (2-0, 2.14), if he hasn't been used too much in relief in the first two games.

Florida's record is surprising, too. The Gators advanced to the College World Series last season, playing both the regional and super regional at home.

"A lot of guys on this team have never dealt with failure," sophomore third baseman Matt Gaski told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. "Obviously, we have had a lot of that this year. What's been happening is really forcing a lot of guys to be mentally tough. We're really going to see about the character of the guys and the team."

For the Tigers, the stakes are simple: Win enough games to even make it to the eight-team SEC tournament that starts May 24 in Hoover. Those chances took a significant dive when Auburn was swept at home by LSU last weekend.

Auburn coach Tom Slater has switched his pitching rotation. Out as Friday starter is Brett Butts (3-6, 6.56), and in is Paul Burnside (2-1, 2.78). Evan Crawford (5-6, 3.89) will start Saturday and Slater hasn't named a Sunday starter.

"Because (Burnside has) been throwing the ball well out of the bullpen — it hasn't been one- or two-inning stints, sometimes it's been four or five innings — as well as he's been throwing it, we decided to get him out there," Slater said.

Still, Slater said his team hasn't given up on making the league tournament despite being three games out of eighth place with six to play.

"The attitude is great," Slater said. "The attitude hasn't changed all year. The kids work hard and show up every day ready to get after it. The attitude is the same today as it was a month ago."

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