Alabama gymnastics is natty bound.

The team travels to St. Louis this week for the 2018 NCAA Championships on Friday and Saturday at the Chaifetz Arena. There will be a total of 12 teams competing. Semifinals are the first day and break down into two sessions of six.

For the first time in nine years, Alabama is slated for the afternoon session. It is joined by LSU, Nebraska, Georgia, UCLA and Arkansas. That will start at noon and air on ESPN2.

The evening semifinal features Oklahoma, Kentucky, Florida, Washington, Utah and California. It will begin at 6 p.m. and be live on ESPNU.

Three teams from each session advance to Super Six on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPNU). Alabama has moved on an NCAA-best 23 times since the format was established 26 seasons ago. This is the last year of Super Six.

Rankings right now are determined by National Qualifying Scores, which are calculated by adding a team’s regional score to its Regional Qualifying Score.

Alabama enters nationals ranked sixth in the nation with a 394.39. It posted a 197.225 to win the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional more than a week ago and ended the regular season with a 197.165 RQS. Its season high is a 197.525.

Oklahoma, LSU and UCLA are on top like they have been all season, in order. Florida and Utah round out the top five as No. 4 and 5, respectively.

 

Pitching, defense woes

Alabama softball gave up 14 runs over the weekend in losing two out of three games at Arkansas. The Crimson Tide had previously allowed 14 runs in a three-game series vs. Kentucky (winning two out of three) and 13 in three games vs. Ole Miss (also winning two of three) in SEC play.

UA allowed 11 runs in dropping two of three games to Florida and five in losing two out of three to Auburn.

Alabama ranks ninth in the SEC in earned-run average (3.48) in conference games, ninth in runs allowed (57) and seventh in opponents’ batting average (.237). UA has given up just six home runs in SEC play, second-fewest in the league. Alabama ranks last in fielding percentage (.955) and has given up 78 walks, most of any team in the conference.

Alabama moved up two spots in the NCAA official Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) rankings to No. 16. The RPI is a key component used by the selection committee for the NCAA Tournament. The top 16 seeds will host regionals.

The Crimson Tide (26-13 overall, 7-8 in league play) fell to ninth place in the SEC with three series remaining: at home against Tennessee on Saturday through Monday, at Georgia the following weekend and at home against Texas A&M to close out the regular season.

Alabama will host Southern Miss on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in its final non-conference game.

— Tommy Deas

 

Better behind the plate

Defense behind the plate has been one of the biggest sources of improvement for Alabama baseball this season.

The Crimson Tide allowed 56 stolen bases on 74 attempts last season (75.7 percent). That was the second worst rate in the league and the second most steals allowed by an SEC team last season. Alabama also had 21 passed balls, the most in the SEC, and set a new school record with 88 wild pitches.

All of those numbers have improved markedly this spring. The team has 20 total wild pitches more than halfway through the regular season, good for third in the conference. Alabama is also tied for the SEC lead with just three passed balls. Freshman Sam Praytor, the Crimson Tide’s primary catcher, has allowed 11 stolen bases on 17 attempts (64.7 percent). Alabama has allowed 22 total stolen bases on 32 attempts (68.8 percent).

Backup catcher Matt Malkin has also helped out at the plate. He started three games at DH last week and one game at catcher, going 5-17 with two home runs, two doubles and nine RBIs. He’s batting .299 on the season and is second on the team with four home runs in just 67 at bats.

Alabama hosts midweek games against Samford and Alcorn State on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. Auburn arrives for a three-game series beginning on Friday night.

— Ben Jones