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Alabama Baseball: Getting Ready For Opening Day

Practice has begun for February 14th opening game

Austen Smith looks to have a big senior year
Austen Smith looks to have a big senior year

The Alabama baseball team has begun preseason practice, leading up to an opening day game on Valentine's Day, February 14th against the Saint Louis Billikens. The first game of the three game series will be at 6:05 p.m. on Friday, followed by a 2:05 p.m. Saturday game and a 1:05 p.m. final game on Sunday, the 16th. The Tide will start the season ranked 21st by Baseball America and Perfect Game USA.

Friday, January 24th, was the first official full day of practice, and Coach Mitch Gaspard and his staff took advantage of the decent weather day to play a nine inning scrimmage. Saturday and Sunday were also scrimmage days, as Coach Gaspard is looking to practice the early days of the week, and scrimmage on the weekends. The scrimmages give the players a feel of a game, with umpires, a few fans, and game-like situations.

Over the weekend the coaching staff used every pitcher on the mound, and every position player available. Freshman left-handed pitcher Thomas Burrows was outstanding in a four inning stint on Friday. Junior Spencer Turnbull pitched on Sunday and also threw four great innings, allowing only one hit, no walks and no runs. Senior Tucker Hawley also had a stellar outing on the hill. Junior lefty Taylor Guilbeau, who was held out of fall scrimmages with a sore arm, was very impressive, throwing three perfect innings with five strikeouts. Another junior left-hander, Jon Keller was impressive, also working his way back from a tired shoulder in the fall. Last season's surprise, sophomore walk-on Mike Oczypok, continued to defy odds by pitching very effectively with a less than power arm. Oczypok is one of those guys that just knows how to pitch and to get batters out. Redshirt sophomore Jake Hubbard, only 10 months removed from season ending Tommy John surgery last March, pitched two innings and was way ahead of schedule. Hubbard said " I feel great, a little sore, but I was so thrilled to be out there it was worth it."

Offensively freshman catcher-DH Will Haynie was the big stick, with two home runs, a double and three singles in the three game set. Haynie is a big (6'5" 230 pound) strong player that will be a huge part of this year's team. Senior first baseman Austen Smith blasted a home run and two doubles on the weekend. Gold Glove winning second baseman Kyle Overstreet had a good weekend with several hits, including two doubles. Ben Moore, who missed Sundays scrimmage with an illness, had a double and single on Friday. Freshman speedster Hunter Webb made a strong push for playing time. The Russell County product had four singles and a walk on Sunday, and blasted a double and another single earlier in the weekend. Gaspard calls Webb's speed "game changing." Another freshman, William Elliott out of Oxford, Mississippi had three hits in Sunday's game. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Blanchard added hits throughout the three games. Sophomore center fielder Georgie Salem and sophomore shortstop Mikey White continued their outstanding play from last year.

'Bama is looking to build on last year's 35-28 record and seems poised to take the next step forward. This is a deep, talented team with a lot of arms. The speed and power should be much improved, and the defense, a strong point last year, will only get better. In baseball you need to be strong up the middle, and this team has that in spades. The keystone combo of White and Overstreet is as good as any in the country. Salem covers center field like a gazelle and catchers Wade Wass and Haynie are outstanding, with cannons for arms. Moore, who hit .280 last year, looks to bounce back to his freshman year mark of over .340. Smith, fully recovered from surgery to remove a rib, should have a big power year. Sophomore Chance Vincent should man third base after being mostly DH last year. Sophomore Daniel Cucjen flashes a mean glove and should back up third base, shortstop and second base. Blanchard has the lead to start in left field, but Webb and fellow freshman Casey Hughston should also get some playing time.

The team practiced Monday, a usual off day, and took off Tuesday, which turned out to be a brilliant move, considering the field is covered in snow after the day's winter surprise. There are practices scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday at 2:30 p.m. Inter-squad scrimmages are slated for Friday at 3:45 p.m., Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1:45 p.m. Practice will be held prior to the scrimmage games. The team will host an open house Saturday from 1:30 to 5 p.m. with a free kids clinic from 5-6 p.m.

I cannot express how excited I am to see this team begin play. With a new stadium coming, this will be the last year in the old "Joe". So let's help send it out in style. I urge anyone that can to come to as many games as possible. This is a team on the verge of doing great things.

'Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It!

Roll Tide Y'all