UA baseball team sees expectations rise for 2014 season

Kevin Connell

No one willingly reminisces on a loss. For any player or coach with a competitive drive and the determination to succeed, a loss is comparable to a nightmare, only it’s as real as it gets.

For the Alabama baseball team, one loss has been especially hard to forget – the one that ended the 2013 season.

The Crimson Tide’s season ended last June when it gave up four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning in a 9-8 loss to Troy at the NCAA Regional in Tallahassee, Fla.

(See also “UA baseball season comes to end with 9-8 loss to No. 26 Troy“)

“Sometimes what occurs can help you later,” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “And we’ve really been able to use that regional as fuel moving into this year. The majority of guys that were in that dugout lived that, and now they’re back in this dugout again this year.”

Alabama, which comes into this season ranked No. 21 in both the Baseball America and Perfect Game USA preseason polls, will officially be able to put last season behind them with a good start to the 2014 season this weekend at home against Saint Louis.

“This year, I think the expectations are a little higher,” said right-hander Spencer Turnbull, who is an expected starter in the weekend rotation for the second year in a row. “It’s still just a day-by-day thing. We want to take every day one day at a time, win every game that we can and hopefully go as far as we can. Obviously, everybody wants to make it to [the College World Series in] Omaha, so that’s our goal for sure.”

Those goals would not have been realistic a year ago. The Crimson Tide was coming off a miserable 21-34 campaign in 2012 and had to replace five starters in the everyday lineup for the upcoming season.

(See also “Alabama baseball reloaded for 2014“)

It’s much of the opposite heading into this season. Despite last season’s bitter ending, the Crimson Tide finished with a 35-28 record in the brutal Southeastern Conference, losing only three position starters and one starting pitcher. In all, Alabama returns 21 players, including several key players who started or received significant playing time as true freshmen last year.

“I think it’s the first time in a while we’re not counting on a large group of freshmen to come in and perform immediately, so it’s nice to have some age on our team,” Gaspard said. “I think you’ll see Friday, we feel like it’s as deep as a team as we’ve had in a while. We’re two-deep at each spot. On the mound, we have a lot of experience.”

Though the roster will be more experienced, the schedule will be just as tough. According to the Baseball America preseason poll, the Crimson Tide will face seven ranked teams this season, five of which will be on the road. The strength of schedule will give Alabama plenty of opportunities to back up its own ranking.

“I think what you’re going to see is that this is a top-25 team,” Gaspard said. “I don’t think there’s any question. I’ve done this long enough to know that we have depth throughout this team. I think they’re hungry, and I think they understand where the program is at now, where we want to go and that’s the way they have worked since day one going back to the fall.”

(See also “Kyle Overstreet reflects on winning Gold Glove, sets goals for next season“)

 

Alabama baseball

Saint Louis vs. No. 21 Alabama

Where: Sewell-Thomas Stadium

When: Friday, 6:05 p.m.; Saturday, 2:05 p.m.; Sunday, 1:05 p.m.

Radio: 99.1 FM