Salem Honored

You didn't have to be a baseball expert to know thatAlabama junior center fielder Emeel Salem had quite a week in leading Bama to three wins in four games last week. In fact, the week is only an exclamation point on the entire season for the Mountain Brook native with the famous Bama name. Salem has to be considered the leader for SEC Player of the Year as regular season play enters the homestretch.

Emeel Salem, a distant cousin of Alabama all-time football great Ed Salem and a handful of other Salems who have played various sports for the Crimson Tide, was rewarded for his four-game performance last week by being named the Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week by Collegiate Baseball newspaper.

He was also named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week for his performance against UAB and Auburn last week.

Salem is the Tide's first Player of the Week since Gabe Scott was honored by the SEC on April 11, 2005. Salem also becomes the first UA player to earn national honors since Wade LeBlanc was tabbed National Player of the Week on March 7, 2005.

The junior had a phenomenal week at the plate in leading the Crimson Tide to a 3-1 record in four games and its sixth SEC series win this year. 

"Salem is a very good player," Alabama Baseball Coach Jim Wells said. "He is having a real good year; not on a tear like last week, but a good year. He is doing his part to help this team win, that's for sure."

In four games, he batted .765 (13-for-17) with 12 runs scored, 12 extra base hits, three stolen bases and two RBI. He compiled a whopping 1.294 slugging percentage (22 total bases) last week and a .818 on-base mark (reached base 18 time in 22 plate appearances). He scored the winning run in all three Crimson Tide wins.

Salem is one reason the Crimson Tide is leading the SEC and is one of the nation's top teams, and certainly among the biggest surprises in college baseball.

Alabama is now 34-13 (72.3 winning percentage) and 15-6 (71.4%) in SEC games. Bama is first overall as well as in the Western Division in SEC play. The Tide is 8-1 in its last nine games and 5-1 in its last six SEC contests. Last week Bama defeated UAB by 14-8 at the Hoover Met in Birmingham (site of the SEC Tournament) and then took two of three games from Auburn in Tuscaloosa –winning 6-5 in 10 innings Friday, losing 7-6 Saturday, then pounding the Tigers by a 9-1 margin Sunday.

Alabama has finished with mid-week games and will continue in SEC play at Arkansas this weekend. The Tide and Razorbacks will meet at 7 p.m. CDT Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday, and 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

In the series win over Auburn, Salem batted ..727 (8-for-11) with eight runs scored, three extra base hits, two stolen bases and one RBI. 

Salem went 3-for-6 in the series opener against Auburn and his walk-off home run with two outs in the 10th inning gave UA the 6-5 win. He also scored two runs in the win. He was 1-for-1 with two runs scored and reached base all five times in game two of Auburn series. 

In the series-clinching finale, Salem was 4-for-4 and scored four runs in the 9-1 win. He reached base all five times in the series finale. Salem led off the third inning with a triple into the right field corner and scored the deciding run on Matt Downs' RBI single to give UA the 1-0 lead.

In the Crimson Tide's 14-8 over UAB at the Hoover Met on April 26, Salem went 5-for-6 and tied the Alabama single game record with five hits. He scored three runs, including the winning run in the eighth inning as UA erased an 8-5 deficit.

Salem enters the Arkansas series having reached base safely 11 consecutive times (6 hits, 4 walks, 1 HBP), dating back to Friday night's walk-off home run. The UA record 14 consecutive times on base and the NCAA is 18 straight times on base.

For the season, Salem is batting .382 (76-for-199) with two home runs and 22 RBI. He is also 26-for-33 in stolen bases and has scored 52 runs in 47 games.

Salem leads the SEC in runs scored (52), hits (76), stolen bases (26), stolen base attempts (33) and at-bats (199). He ranks second in plate appearances (228) and triples (5) and is third in hitting (.382) and seventh in on-base percentage (.456).

In SEC games only, Salem is first in plate appearances (106), second in triples (3), third in at-bats (92) and hits (37), fourth in runs scored (24), sixth in average (.402) and stolen bases (5) and eighth in on base percentage (.471).  

Salem was the obvious choice for SEC Player of the Week. Alabama also nominated very strong performers in other categories, Tommy Hunter for Pitcher of the Week and Ryan Rhoden for Freshman of the Week.

Hunter, a 6-5, 255-pound freshman right-hander from Indianapolis, threw eight shutout innings in Alabama's series-clinching win over Auburn. He allowed only five hits and three bases on balls and struck out three. He allowed just two Tigrs to reach third base.

His performance came in a game that was delayed five hours by rain. The win over the Tigers was Hunter's second series-clinching win in SEC play this season. He also beat South Carolina (April 9) s the Tide won the series in Columbia.

For the season, Hunter is 7-2 with a 3.17 ERA in 14 appearances, including 10 starts. He has worked 76 1/3 innings and allowed 70 hits, 32 runs and 27 earned runs, with 18 walks and 52 strikeouts. *He is tied with Wade LeBlanc for the most wins on the staff and is one win shy of tying the UA freshman single-season record for wins, also shared by LeBlanc. Bama is 7-3 in Hunter's 10 starts this year.

*In SEC play, Hunter is 4-1 in seven starts with a staff-best 3.70 ERA.

Rhoden, a 6-2, 215-pound right fielder from Tuscaloosa, was 8-for-19 (.421) last week with two runs, a double,k and five runbs batted in. Against Auburn he was 5-for-14 (.357) with two runs, a double, and four runs batted in.

Rhoden was 3-for-5 with one RBI in UA's 14-8 comeback win at UAB on April 26. He had two hits and scored one run in the Tide's 6-5 in over Auburn in the series opener. In the series finale, Rhoden had two hits and broke the game open with a three-run double in the 5th inning that gave UA a 5-0 lead en route to a 9-1 win.

For the season, Rhoden is batting .308 (44-for-143) in 44 games with one home run and 19 RBI. *In SEC play, he is second on the team with a .362 (20-for-55) batting average, with 12 runs scored and nine RBI in 19 games.

ALABAMA BASEBALL NOTEBOOK

Alabama (34-13, 15-6 SEC) owns the best record in the Southeastern Conference and holds a two-game lead over Ole Miss (13-8), Kentucky (13-8) and South Carolina (13-8) for the overall lead in the standings with nine games to play.

The Crimson Tide is batting .299 (483-for-1617) on the season with 38 home runs and 204 RBI. The .299 batting average is the highest of the season for UA. Since April 15. Alabama has raised its season average 26 points in the last 10 games. Dating back to March 13, Alabama has raised its average 49 points over the last 27 games. UA is tied with Kentucky for seventh in the league with that ..299 average. In SEC play, Alabama is second in hitting with a .322 (237-for-736) average.

Alabama continues to have the best earned average in the Southeastern Conference.   The Crimson Tide is 34-13 with a 3.29 ERA (421 1/3 IP, 154 ER, 354 K) in 47 games. Bama also has the best ERA in SEC play with a 4.03 ERA (187 2/3 IP, 84 R, 153 K) through 21 games.

Bama won its sixth SEC series of the season this past weekend by taking two of three at home from Auburn. The Crimson Tide won the opener 6-5 as Salem's walk-off home run in the 10th inning provided the win. Alabama made four errors in Saturday's 7-6, which led to three unearned runs for the Tigers. In the series finale, Ryan Rhoden's bases loaded double in the fifth inning broke open a close game as the Tide took a 5-0 lead en route to a 9-1 win. Tommy Hunter threw eight shutout innings for the win.

The Crimson Tide will play six of its last nine games away from home to close out the 2006 season. Alabama is at Arkansas (May 5-7) before hosting Florida (May 12-14) next weekend. The Crimson Tide closes out the year at Tennessee (May 18-20) in three weeks. Alabama is 10-2 (.833) in SEC home games this season and 5-4 (.556) in SEC road games. The Crimson Tide is 8-4 against the SEC West and 7-2 against the SEC East. UA's final six SEC games will come against Eastern Division teams.

Alabama travels to Arkansas this weekend for Western Division showdown at Baum Stadium. The Crimson Tide leads the all-time series 30-15, but has lost the last two series. The Hogs took two of three from the Tide in the last meeting at Baum Stadium in 2004. It was Arkansas' first series win over Alabama since 1995. The Razorbacks made its two straight series wins by taking two of three last season in Tuscaloosa. Arkansas hitting coach Todd Butler is a former assistant coach at Alabama. 

The Crimson Tide has fared well on the road this season, going 7-7 (.500) in 14 games. Alabama has SEC road series wins at No. 23 Georgia (Mar. 17-19) and No. 1 South Carolina (April 7-9). The Crimson Tide has series losses at No. 6 Nebraska (March 10-12) and No. 20 LSU (April 14-16).

Junior CF Emeel Salem and senior second baseman Evan Bush are the only two UA players to start all 47 games this year.

Salem tied the UA single-game record with five hits in a 14-8 win over UAB at the Hoover Met (April 26). He was 5-for-6 in the win and scored the winning run in the eighth inning as UA erased an 8-5 deficit.

Junior left-hander Wade LeBlanc moved into second place on the school's all-time strikeout list with seven strikeouts against Auburn. LeBlanc has recorded 290 career strikeouts and moved ahead of Lance Cormier (1999-2002) into second place all-time. Cormier had 288 career strikeouts. LeBlanc needs 17 strikeouts to tie Brent Carter's (2002-05) school record of 207 career strikeouts. With 84 strikeouts this year, LeBlanc needs 34 to tie the single-season record of 118 held by Bobby Sprowl (1977). 

Freshman right-hander Tommy Hunter won his seventh game of the season against Auburn on April 30 to tie LeBlanc for the team lead. Hunter is one win away from tying the freshman single-season record of eight wins held by B.J. Green (1998), Scott Murphy (1999), Taylor Tankersley (2002) and LeBlanc (2004).

*Alabama head coach Jim Wells coached his 750th all-time game at The Captsone on Sunday against Auburn. Wells has compiled a 512-238 (.683) record in 12 years at Alabama. Overall, he is 704-325 (.685) in 17 seasons at Northwestern State and Alabama.