The traveling Tide will head to Mobile this weekend to host a "home" series with the Lipscomb Bisons from Nashville. The games are set for 7:00 p.m. CST on Friday and Saturday and Sunday's game three has a 2:00 p.m. first pitch. Alabama comes in with a 7-5 record, and a three game losing streak, Lipscomb is 7-2 on the season.
Alabama will stick with their regular rotation of senior left-hander Taylor Guilbeau facing senior righty Ian Martinez-McGraw on Friday, junior right-hander Will Carter against senior lefty Nick Andros, and sophomore right-hander Geoffrey Bramblett will face junior right-hander Denton Norman on Sunday. Martinez-McGraw is the ace of the Bisons with a 2-0 record with a 0.53 ERA in 17 innings this year. Freshman Jeffrey Passantino, RS-junior Jaesung Hwang, senior Jason Ziegler and sophomore John Pryor could all also see mound action for the Bisons.
Lipscomb is hitting .310 through their nine games, and are led by RS-freshman Allan Hooker who has a .500 average and two of the team's four home runs on the season. Freshman Michael Gigliotti leads the team in hits with 16, sports a .421 batting average, and is tied for the team lead in RBIs with nine. RS-junior Adam Lee also has nine runs driven in and is hitting .375. Senior Jonathan Allison checks in at .367, followed by senior Grant Massey with a .353 average and sophomore Hunter Hanks at .316. Massey carries an 18 game hitting streak into the series.
Alabama is hitting .290 as a team with a .353 on base percentage and a .441 slugging percentage. The Tide leads the nation in doubles with 34, and has seven triples and five home runs on the season, a by-product of playing most of their games in the spacious Hoover Met. 'Bama has stolen 17 bases in 19 attempts.
The Crimson Tide continues to be led by red hot sophomore right fielder Casey Hughston. Casey Baseball leads the team in seven categories: average (.542), hits (26), doubles (10), home runs (2), RBIs (19), slugging percentage (.956), and on base percentage (.556) - just stupid, video game numbers. Speaking of Hughston, coach Mitch Gaspard says, " Casey is just fun to watch right now, he is squaring everything up. He plays the game with great passion, with anger, and is doing everything right. He is playing an amazing right field, and has all the tools. Right now I would say he is a first round guy (in June's MLB draft)."
Junior shortstop Mikey White is living up to his billing as one of the best players in the country, hitting .378 and leading the team with four triples and 17 runs scored. White is second on the team with five doubles and has driven home 10 runs. Senior Swiss Army Knife J.C. Wilhite (he plays OF, DH, P and can help at 1B, 3B and C if needed) is next in average at .314. Junior second baseman Kyle Overstreet not only is the best fielding infielder in the country, he is also hitting .313 and is second on the team with 15 RBIs. Junior center fielder Georgie Salem is hitting .273 and is second in the SEC in stolen bases, with a perfect nine for nine mark. Salem has reached base in 16 straight games, going back to last season, and has not committed an error in his last 77 games.
Those five are carrying the load for the Tide right now, and will need some of their teammates to step up and help out. Freshman Chandler Avant has been the primary lead off hitter thus far, playing third base, DH and left field. Gaspard says, "we need to get Chandler going, he really is the X factor, I believe in him, and know he can do it. When he starts hitting like he can that will make us that much more dangerous. We would love to leave him at leadoff. I love Salem in the two-hole because of his bunting ability. We just need someone in the one-hole getting on base at a high rate." Avant has had a slow start, hitting .225 with a .279 on base percentage. By contrast Salem's on base percentage is .396.
First baseman Chance Vincent is only hitting .163 but has driven in eight runs, good for fourth on the team. Gaspard stated "Chance is starting to come around, he is putting some good swings on the ball. It is just a matter of time." In limited action Daniel Cucjen is hitting .353 (6-17) and Ryan Blanchard is at .273 (6-22). Catcher Will Haynie has been outstanding on defense but is struggling at the plate (.133) and is being backed up by Taylor Poe, who is 4-13 (.308) on the young season.
Guilbeau has been very good as the Friday night starter and has a 1-1 record with a 3.32 ERA in 19 innings. The lanky lefty has struck out 22 and only walked five. Carter is 1-0 with a 3.45 ERA, while Bramblett leads the team in wins with two and has a 4.41 ERA. Ray Castillo has been outstanding out of the bullpen with a win and two saves in 11.2 innings. The junior right-hander has struck out 15, walked only one and sports a spiffy 0.77 ERA. Sophomore left-hander Thomas Burrows has suffered two hard luck losses and has a 3.38 ERA in eight innings over five appearances. The preseason All-American has struck out 13, but has walked six, a ratio he needs to improve on. J.C. Wilhite has appeared in four games and has one save with a 3.86 ERA.
The bullpen will be bolstered by the return of trio of arms. Senior right-hander Jay Shaw has been out of action for about 10 days with a concussion, but should be available for the weekend. Sophomore right-hander Nick Eicholtz has been nursing a sore elbow, but should also be back in action. RS-junior Jake Hubbard has been pressed into a starting role the last two Tuesdays, but should be back in the pen for the weekend series. Freshman left-hander Alex Watkins, junior right-hander Mitch Greer, freshman right-handers Jake Walters, Zac Rogers and Tyler McMurray will also be in the mix to pitch this weekend
Gaspard said that Hubbard is a big piece of the pen, and "hit 95(mph) on the gun" Tuesday in the game with Auburn. "Hubbard can give you two or three really good innings." Gaspard also said he likes what he sees from Walters, Rogers and McMurray, saying "Mac is going to be special. He is 6'5" and when he gets it all together, he is going to be 95-96 (mph). It may not be right away, but he has a chance to be really special."
The Bisons are coached by Jeff Forehand, and one of his assistants is former 'Bama player Paul Phillips. Phillips was drafted in the 9th round of the MLB draft in 1998, eight slots before Mark Teixeira. Phillips played part of five seasons in the big leagues, and is the cousin of Alabama hitting coach Andy Phillips, who is also a former big league player.
Friday's first game will have the first pitch thrown out by Mobile native, and Alabama National Championship quarterback AJ McCarron.
The games will be played at Hank Aaron Stadium, home of the AA Mobile Bay Bears. The games will not be available on the SEC Network, or on SEC Network Plus. Check your local listing for radio coverage, and Tide TV, or follow me on twitter @rogerpatmyers for live, in game, inning by inning updates.
Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It.