Alabama is red hot in SEC finals

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 28, 2002

After winning still another Southeastern Conference baseball tournament, the Alabama Crimson Tide is getting its due reward.

That is, Alabama was picked Monday as the host team for one of the first round playoffs in the NCAA’s national tournament that winds up in Omaha.

That was not unexpected, and neither was the fact that the Tide is the No. 1 seed in the Tuscaloosa round that includes No. 2 seed Auburn, No. 3 seed Southeast Missouri and No. 4 seed Florida Atlantic.

The Auburn Tigers, unlike Alabama, were not guaranteed an NCAA bid although one was expected, based on their 34-24 record and fifth-place finish in the SEC regular season.

So Auburn is happy to have a dance card, even if the Tigers do have to travel to a less-than-loved venue, Tuscaloosa.

Alabama’s invitation was automatic after the Tide won the SEC tournament at Hoover on Sunday behind the fine pitching of Jeffrey Norris, who went all the way in the 6-2 victory over top-seeded South Carolina in the payoff game.

That gave the Tide a 48-13 record for the current campaign.

It should come as no comfort to Auburn, Southeast Missouri and Florida Atlantic that Alabama’s current record at Sewell-Thomas Stadium is 32-2.

Quite remarkably, Alabama now is 6-0 in conference tournament championship games, with the current squad joining those from 1983, ’95, ’96, ’97 and ’99.

Now, if Alabama can win the regional, the team has a good chance of hosting a Super Regional, one of the rounds that determine which teams make it to Omaha for the College World Series.

Coach Jim Wells, whose years with Alabama have been quite stellar, says he believes his team can make it to Omaha, given the Tide’s pitching, hitting and defense.

In the SEC tournament at the Hoover Met, Alabama was rolling along undefeated until it ran into Florida Saturday and lost 7-4 to the Gators.

That meant a rematch that night, and the Tide had to struggle to pull out an 11-9 victory to assure itself of a place in the title game.

In the second game, Florida threatened by loading the bases in the bottom of the ninth, but a fine pitcher-to-catcher-to-first double play put an end to that and to the game.

Sunday’s game was easier, with Alabama getting five runs in the first two innings and with Norris holding the Gamecocks to one run in the fifth and a pinch-hit homer in the ninth.

Most of the Tide’s batters got hits.

That combination of pitching and hitting pleased most of the 13,367 fans, a turnout that raised the attendance for the five days to a record 124,440, thanks mainly to two things: Alabama making it all the way, and excellent weather.

As usual, Hoover did an excellent job of hosting the tournament, although it seems something could be done to make it easier to get in and out of the parking areas.

Other than that, the only beef I know about occurred on the field when an interference call went against Louisiana State in its Saturday game with South Carolina. That left LSU coach Smoke Laval fuming.

Laval may be fuming, but Alabama appears to be red-hot as it heads into the NCAA tournament.

Hoyt Harwell is a retired Associated Press Correspondent who covered major sports in Alabama for 26 years. Harwell lives in Hoover. (e-mail: