Freshmen play key roles on team

Kevin Connell

When Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard took a look at his lineup before last Sunday’s series finale against Stephen F. Austin, even he was a little bit surprised by who would be starting – and he was the one who made it.

Not one, not two, but three freshmen were starting for Alabama in what was only the sixth game of the season for the Crimson Tide. It wasn’t the first time several freshmen have seen action this season, either.

On a veteran-laden squad that returns 21 players in all from last season’s NCAA Regional team, seven of the 10 true freshmen on the Alabama’s rosters have already seen the field this year for the 4-2 Crimson Tide.

“I’ve been pretty pleased with the freshmen,” Gaspard said. “Obviously, on the mound I think we’re a little over 14 innings of scoreless ball and then when you look at the contributions we got on the offensive end, with [Hunter] Webb and [Casey] Hughston and some of the other guys.”

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At pitcher, the Crimson Tide has played Nick Eicholtz, Thomas Burrows and Geoffrey Bramblett, all in relief this season, with all three making two appearances each so far in 2014. Each has pitched at least a combined 4.0 innings between those two appearances and none has allowed more than three hits, a batting average greater than .200 or even a single run.

Eicholtz, a right-handed pitcher from Odessa, Fla., will make his first career start against Southern Miss on Wednesday.

“We knew they were going to be good from early,” said junior left-hander Jon Keller, who has also worked out of the bullpen to start the season. “They came in throwing strikes, they have good demeanor about them, they all work really hard and they commit and give a lot to the bullpen that we need.”

Among position players, catcher Will Haynie and outfielders Webb, Hughston and William Elliott have all played in the field or have gone up to bat at least once.

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Haynie has started four games at catcher and is expected to split time with redshirt junior catcher Wade Wass, who also serves as a designated hitter, at the physically demanding position throughout the season.

Webb, who has started three games and played in five as either the left fielder or designated hitter, ranks third on the team in batting average (.308) and on-base percentage (.400).

Hughston, arguably the best power hitter of the freshmen and maybe the team, hit two solo home runs and three RBIs in his first career start last Saturday to help lead Alabama to an 8-0 win over Stephen F. Austin on Saturday.

And Elliott, though he has only had one at-bat so far this season, will get a start in the near future, Gaspard said.

Junior right fielder Ben Moore is only marginally surprised to see the majority of his freshmen teammates making contributions this early in their college careers.

“I knew they were good, I just didn’t know how many opportunities they would have this early,” Moore said. “But they’ve taken advantage of their opportunities, and they’ve been great for us, and it’s exciting to see them have success and know that they’re going to contribute all year long.”

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