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June 6, 2011TALLAHASSEE, Fla. | To define what the University of Alabama's season was is to look beyond the 11-1 thrashing Florida State put on the Crimson Tide in the Tallahassee Regional Championship on Monday.
After all, Florida State is a top-10 team in the country for a reason. Alabama ended its season with a record of 35-28, finishing well out of anyone's top 25.
But wins and losses didn't mean much to this year's team. When a tornado swept by the UA campus on April 27, leaving a path of destruction and devastation in its wake, what it meant to be an Alabama baseball player changed.
When you come within an inch of losing your life, as was the case with Josh Rosecrans and Nathan Kennedy, your perspective is altered. When you see your neighbors parents come search through the rubble that took the life of their children, as Jon Kelton and Jared Reaves saw from their front porch, what you think and how you feel is made over into something new.
Instead of wallowing in disaster, Alabama found new life.
"After that happened, we wanted to come together for the team and for the city and do it for them," Reaves said. "Ever since that day it made us closer. We put it all on the table."
In the end though, what Alabama had wasn't enough.
The final score against Florida State was a punch in the gut. Any way you spin it, losing an NCAA regional championship by double digits is disappointing. But for Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard, being in the ring was an accomplishment in itself.
Being frank, Gaspard said the power hitters and bullpen depth of seasons past just wasn't there for this year's squad. Lacking a quality fourth starter, Alabama used five pitchers against Florida State. No one lasted longer than 21⁄3 innings. Lacking a significant presence in the lineup, Alabama scraped for five hits against Florida State's spot starter.
"This was a rebuilt team," Gaspard said. "We lost hitters two through six, we lost one of our frontline pitchers. On top of that, we had many casualties on the way. ... We're not going to have a first or second rounder in the draft tomorrow or today. We have a lot of baseball players."
Gaspard said he was proud of the way his group faced the challenges of this season. The second-year head coach recalled the day after the tornado struck where every player came to The Joe ready to work. From sun up to sun down, players skipped practice and went out into neighborhoods to help.
"Obviously, the tornado was something that we had to deal with along with the community," Gaspard said. "It showed a real spirit and a real character about this team that really bonded and moved forward as the season went on."
Taylor Dugas said he couldn't have imagined this team anywhere near an NCAA regional considering how it began last year. In fall practice, fielding grounders and running the bases seemed like a chore. As far as expectations, there were none.
"Looking back to the fall, we were pretty bad," Dugas said. "We really weren't sure what to expect out of this year.
"This whole season everyone continued to get better. I feel like we finished with a pretty good team."
Alabama began the season picked to finish fifth in the SEC West. UA instead came within an inning of winning the division. Alabama was chosen as the three-seed in the Tallahassee Regional, below Central Florida - a team that dominated UA to the tune of 12-4 earlier this season. In the Florida panhandle, UA beat the Knights in consecutive games, 5-3 and 12-5.
Reaves, who was one of four Alabama players selected to the All-Regional team, said for this team to get to the championship game was an accomplishment, albeit a bittersweet one.
"Looking back to opening day, it's difficult to go out like this," Reaves said. "Our main goal was to get to Omaha but making it to this game would still make this season a success."
Looking forward, expectations hinge on who will go and who will stay. Senior pitchers Nathan Kilcrease and Jonathan Smart will graduate. Of the starting position players, Brock Bennett and Josh Sanders will also move on from college life. Where the questions remain are the juniors who will go in the MLB draft. Taylor Dugas, Adam Morgan and Jared Reaves are likely picks. Dugas, a three-time All-American, said he's yet to decide whether he'll stay or go. He said he'll discuss it with his parents and make his choice depending on where he goes in the draft.
Brett Booth, a sophomore who's spent most of the season starting at third base for the Crimson Tide, said he's not ready to look forward to next season. With two potential draft picks sitting beside him, Booth chose instead to focus on how he'd like it to stay the same.
"Everybody in our program understands that next year we have to play as a team," Booth said. "We have to lay it on the line every day. As you saw this year and last year and year's past, when you get to the postseason things start happening and you start making a run."
Reach Alex Scarborough at email@example.com or 205-722-0193.