Alabama Baseball 2014: Raring To Go

Junior Right Hander Spencer Turnbull gets the ball on opening night for the Tide - USA TODAY Sports

The season opens Friday night vs. the Saint Louis Billikens

After a long off-season to chew on a disappointing end to a good season, the Alabama baseball team is eager to get started. The first game is Friday, February 14th at 6:05 p.m., beginning the last season in the old "Joe." 'Bama finished 35-28 last season, and the year ended with a 9-8 loss to Troy in the Tallahassee Regional. The Tide took an 8-5 lead into the bottom of the ninth, before surrendering four runs to end the season.

Several of the players mentioned the loss as motivation for this season:

Senior first baseman Austen Smith: "the season ending the way it did last year was not what we were expecting, but that has  driven us to work that much harder so something like that want happen again."

Sophomore center fielder Georgie Salem: "last year was a miserable way to walk away from the season." Salem added that "the experience all of us young guys gathered last year, along with competitive summer ball seasons, will carry on into this season. Salem feels that all the positives, plus the memory of the disappointment will serve the team well going into this season. Salem also said, "we have done everything possible to make sure this season doesn't end the way last seasons did."

Junior right fielder Ben Moore: "we are very confident going into this weekend because of all the preparation we've put in this off-season. With the guys back from last year, and the new guys that are ready to contribute right away, we feel like we are capable of going a long way, and we are using the regional to motivate us for this year."

Sophomore pitcher Ray Castillo, a freshmen All-American last year as a closer: "our goal is to win a National Championship, but we are going to focus on taking the season one game at a time. Obviously last year didn't end the way we wanted it to, but the experience we gained will show this year." Castillo also said that "look for a well-rounded team with a productive offense and a team that will really compete everyday."

Freshmen All-American shortstop Mikey White: "we expect to be really good this year, and host a regional and go further in the post-season. We are using last year as motivation. We came together at the end of last year, but I feel we were looking ahead. This year we are going to be very talented and very driven in every game."

White's keystone partner, sophomore second baseman Kyle Overstreet: "the team to be really good this year, and that we can do some big things. We have put in a lot of work in this off-season, and even though last year's ending was tough, we have to put that behind us starting tomorrow, and start anew. We should have an older, more dominating pitching staff and a lineup with some power that will be able to put up some runs."

Pitcher Jake Hubbard: "the end of the season helped us all mature as players, and allowed us to learn from out mistakes."

Coach Mitch Gaspard: "we are looking forward to getting going, excited to see the new guys. We need to get out there and play together, relax and settle in quickly to have the type season we are expecting." Gaspard added that this weekend is "going to be a good test. Saint Louis is a good team, and should be a good test for us."

Gaspard plans on using this opening day lineup:

  1. Ryan Blanchard-sophomore- LF
  2. Georgie Salem-sophomore-CF
  3. Mikey White-sophomore-SS
  4. Ben Moore-junior-RF
  5. Wade Wass-junior-DH
  6. Kyle Overstreet-sophomore-2B
  7. Austen Smith-senior-1B
  8. Will Haynie-freshmen-C
  9. Chance Vincent-sophomore-3B

Junior right-hander Spencer Turnbull will get the start on the mound.

Gaspard added that ''if we get into a save situation we look to use (freshmen lefty) Thomas Burrows or Overstreet. "I would expect that (senior) Tucker Hawley will be our long guy over the weekend, and depending on the game, could finish the game out. We also want to use our other freshmen Nick Eicholtz and Geoffrey Bramblett, probably for one inning each during the weekend. We want them to get their feet wet and ease them into helping us." Gaspard also mentioned that sophomore Daniel Cucjen would get a start at third base on Saturday, and redshirt freshmen Matthew Goodson would DH on Saturday, with Wass catching. Junior left-hander Justin Kamplain will draw the starting assignment on Saturday and Castillo will start on Sunday.

Saint Louis had a very good year last year, finishing 41-21, including winning the Atlantic-10 regular season and tournament championships. The Billikens return Atlantic 10 player of the year Mike Vigliarolo, who hit .341 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs last year. Alec Sole, who hit .326 also returns, as well as Braxten Martinez (.314 with seven home runs), and Michael Bozarth who hit .302 on the season. Saint Louis drew 253 walks during the 2013 season. The team returns its top two pitchers Clay Smith (8-3, 3.77 ERA) and Nick Bates (8-4, 4.18 ERA), as well as closer Matt Eckelman who had a 6-1 record, four saves, and a sparkling 1.64 ERA in 49 innings. Saint Louis will start Smith, then James Norwood (0-2,4.72 ERA) on Saturday, and Josh Moore (1-2, 4.85 ERA) on Sunday.

'Bama is ranked 21st in several preseason polls and look to be a much improved squad. The offense should be much improved from last season's .259 team average. The Tide only hit 26 home runs last season, and this team should be able to reach 40-50 round-trippers this year.

The defense was a strength last year and should only get better. The double-play duo of White and Overstreet are unparalleled in college baseball, and Salem is as good as it gets in centerfield. The catching is in great hands with Wass and Haynie, who both have very strong arms, and are excellent backstops. Smith at first base makes the scoop play with ease. Moore has a strong and accurate arm in right field and can cover ground. Blanchard in left field has speed and a cannon for a right arm. When the other team hits the ball, this team will catch it.

There is a lot of reason for optimism for this season. The team has worked extremely hard and is confident in their ability. Look for a 40-plus win season, and possibly an at-home regional in the final season for the old, decrepit Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The mixture of veterans and youth have jelled together into a cohesive unit that has great chemistry.

This weekend the games are Friday at 6:05 p.m., Saturday at 2:05 p.m. and Sunday at 1:05 p.m. If you are close to Tuscaloosa, come on out. It should be a nice, almost springlike weekend, and you will be treated to some exciting baseball.

Bama Baseball Fever, Catch it!

Roll Tide Y'all   Roger

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