Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Ending to 2013 Season Adds Fuel for Alabama's 2014 Campaign

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Ending to 2013 Season Adds Fuel for Alabama's 2014 Campaign

Article excerpt

The feeling in that Tallahassee, Fla., dugout after its lackluster finish in the NCAA Regional still resonates with Alabama's baseball team.

Eight months later, it's a central source of motivation.

"Sometimes what occurs can help you later," Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. "And we've really been able to use that regional as fuel coming into this year. Because really, the majority of guys who were in that dugout lived that, now they're back in this dugout again this year."

The host of familiar faces from the improved, yet unsatisfied team of a season ago give Alabama experience. In the face of that bitter end to 2013, Alabama enters the year ranked No. 21 in the Baseball America poll, its first appearance in the preseason top 25 in five years.

That's the fun of a new season, of course. A fresh start.

"I think as you're going to see, this is a Top 25 team," Gaspard said. The Crimson Tide opens the year at home against St. Louis on Friday at 6:05 p.m. "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 and where we want to go and that's the way they have worked since Day 1 going back to the fall."

The Crimson Tide returns 21 players, including five starters in the field, pitchers who made 47 of its 63 starts and a host of tested relievers.

"This year I think the expectations are a little bit higher," said right-handed pitcher Spencer Turnbull, who is again expected to be a key part of the Crimson Tide's weekend rotation. "It's still a day-by-day thing, we want to take it 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 Omaha, that's our goal for sure."

To take another next step, Alabama's most obvious place to improve is at the plate.

The Crimson Tide ranked 12th in the Southeastern Conference in hitting (.259), 13th in slugging percentage (.344) and 11th in strikeouts (392) a season ago. It made up for that in its run to the NCAA postseason with solid pitching and great defense; Alabama tied for fourth in the SEC in fielding percentage (. …

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