Tide to take No. 20 Kentucky

Kevin Connell

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It took exactly 37 innings before Alabama conceded its first run in nearly a week during Tuesday’s game against Samford.

This weekend, it will look to regain that dominance against the best offensive team in the nation to start Southeastern Conference play.

The Crimson Tide baseball team will take on No. 20 Kentucky this weekend at Sewell-Thomas Stadium in what can be best described as a true offense versus defense matchup.

The Wildcats (13-4) rank first in the nation in nearly every offensive category, including hits (199), batting average (.345), runs (182), runs per game (11.4) and doubles (45).

For Alabama, it has been nearly equally impressive pitching.

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In addition to its 37 scoreless innings streak, the Crimson Tide (10-5) pitched three straight shutouts against Mississippi Valley State for the first time since a three-game set against Marion Institute in 1912, as well as its first nine-inning no-hitter in 72 years in Saturday’s contest.

Statistically, Alabama’s 1.76 ERA for the season is ninth-best in the nation.

“We’re very excited,” junior left-hander Justin Kamplain said. “We know that Kentucky’s a real good hitting team and everything, but we’re not going to let that change who we are. We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing all year, and it should be a fun weekend series.”

Alabama, which struggled offensively to start the season but has since improved during its current six-game winning streak, including a 14-hit game in a 12-1 win over Samford on Tuesday, has scored only 61 runs in comparison to the Wildcats.

“We like our offense,” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “We know there’s been some struggles up to this point, but I think last [Tuesday] night was an indicator of what we can be, and what we expect to be, moving forward.”

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Junior right fielder Ben Moore believes Kentucky’s offensive production will put up a challenge for the Crimson Tide’s hitters to match the scoring, but he said that the team should stay true to its own identity.

“I think if we come out and stay with our plan and do what we do best, we’ll be all right,” he said. “Our pitching staff has been phenomenal so far, and I think that will be a great matchup for our pitching staff and their hitters.”

Overall, Gaspard said that his team is in a good place right now, heading into the 30-game SEC season. After a 14-15 mark in conference play last season, he is confident the Crimson Tide can take the next step this season.

“I mean, that’s what this team is capable of being,” he said. “I think when we put all phases of the game together, it can be a team that can be dominate, and it can be a team that can compete at the highest level in the SEC.”

(See also “Alabama baseball reloaded for 2014“)