The No. 22 Alabama Crimson Tide baseball team continues its six-game home stand with a three-game series beginning Thursday against the No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. First pitches are set for Thursday at 7:05 p.m. on ESPNU, Friday at 6:35 p.m. and Saturday at 1:05 p.m.
The Crimson Tide (19-11, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) has won 11 of its last 14 games, including a 9-1 win over Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday. The upcoming series against Arkansas will be the Tide’s fourth in conference play this season and its toughest to date.
“There was a reason why they were picked No. 1 in the country at the beginning of the year,” Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard said. “I know they’ve had a few scuffles here and there, but they’re awfully deep and a very good ball club.”
The Razorbacks (21-8, 6-3 SEC), who currently sit in third place in the SEC West behind first-place LSU and second-place Alabama, enter the series with a well-known strength.
“They have one of the top pitching staffs in the country,” senior right-hander Charley Sullivan said. “So we’re going to have to swing the bats well, get deep in pitch counts with their pitchers.”
Although Alabama holds the top batting average in the SEC against conference opponents at .305, they know they have to do their part on the defensive end as well.
In addition to Sullivan, sophomore lefty Jon Keller (3-3, 3.86 ERA) will start Friday and sophomore right-hander Spencer Turnbull (3-1, 2.59 ERA) will get the nod to conclude the series on Saturday.
Gaspard said he likes what he sees for the most part out of the starting rotation.
“I think there’s still a ceiling where we can get a little better, but I think right now those guys are competing, and that’s what you ask,” he said.
In the back ends of games, freshman pitcher Ray Castillo (2-0) will play a crucial role for the Tide against the Razorbacks after moving his way into the closer role with a team-high five saves.
“Right now, he’s our closer, and what I’ve seen he’ll continue to be our closer,” Gaspard said. “He’s a guy I’m comfortable with where we can give him the ball in the seventh and the eighth inning and let him take us home from there if the situation arises that way.”
Although the Tide boasts a 7-2 conference record so far, the combined conference record of the three SEC opponents Alabama has faced this season – Tennessee, Georgia and Auburn – is 5-22.
An impressive showing against a highly-ranked Arkansas team can put that argument to rest, freshman second baseman Mikey White said.
“Arkansas is one of the top teams in the country so going out and having good outings against them will definitely show that we’re one of the top teams in the SEC.”