For the first time since mid-April of 2011, the Alabama Crimson Tide baseball team finds itself ranked int he top 25 by both the USA Today Coaches Poll and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers’ Association. Both polls have the Tide ranked No. 22.
“This team is very deserving,” Alabama baseball coach Mitch Gaspard said. “They’ve played extremely hard all year and have been hot the last three weeks. The biggest thing from me is that the team has gotten batter, which I felt like they would, and we’re continuing to move in that direction.
“Being ranked is just a reward for the hard work, and this group is confident that we’ll continue to get better.”
Alabama starting pitcher Charley Sullivan labeled the ranking as another step in the long process of rebounding from a disappointment 2012 season.
“It’s a good feeling to know that all of the hard work we put in in the offseason and summer workouts, then competing all fall and winning spots, it’s good to know that being ranked, it’s paying off so far,” Sullivan said.
But the Tide has to quickly defend both its impressive Southeastern Conference record of 7-2 and its No. 22 national ranking with a three-game series against the No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks, coming into the series 21-8.
“They’re awfully good,” Gaspard said. “They’ve got an ERA of about 1.68, right about that in the SEC as well. They’ve got three terrific starters and experience in the field with position players. There’s a reason they were picked No. 1 at the beginning of the year.
“I know they’ve had a few scuffles here and there, but they’re awfully deep and a terrific ball club.”
The Razorbacks also have one of the SEC’s best closers, Colby Suggs, who has gotten three saves in the Razorbacks’ last six games.
“They’ve got a guy in the back of the game (Suggs) that’s going to pitch mid-to-upper-90s, and some left handers that have done a nice job for them,” Gaspard said. “Their starters have been taking them deep into the games, so they can hand it right to Suggs or one of the other guys, the lefties, that are good match-ups for them.”
The Tide is not intimidated by the Razorbacks, however, as Alabama has been in this situation before. Alabama traveled to the then-No. 5 Louisville Cardinals and, although getting swept in the three-game series, battled to extra innings twice.
“How we played them, I think that gave us confidence when we left there that we’re a good team and, as I told the team that Sunday, we were right there,” Gaspard said. “We were that close and they understood that.
“Our guys are ready and confident to play a team like Arkansas and we’re excited to see where we stack up.”
With the experience behind them, and the more recent wins – nine of the last 11, to be exact – have Alabama thinking they can hit anyone.
“Arkansas definitely has a great staff, but with the way we’re swinging the bats right now, I think we can put good at-bats together and we can be fine,” freshman shortstop Mikey White said.
Gaspard added, “I think the biggest thing for us is the quality of our at-bats. That may not mean we’re getting eight or ten hits, but you have to make them work, fight pitches off, try to get them deep in the pitch count. When you do have those few opportunities, you have to take advantage of them.”
Especially on the Thursday night game, as ESPNU will be in Tuscaloosa to televise the series-opener live.
“I think anytime you have an opportunity to be on TV, I think that’s got a chance to help your program,” Gaspard said. “I also think being Alabama, being in the SEC, we’re going to be a showcase school anyway. But anytime we can get on ESPN and have a good showing and show off your campus, your facility, your fans, that’s a good thing for your team.”