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February 17, 2012

Owls baseball tops UA for second day in row

TUSCALOOSA | Florida Atlantic took a season-opening baseball series from the University of Alabama Saturday with a 9-2 win, and after watching the Crimson Tide score just four runs in the season's first 18 innings, UA coach Mitch Gaspard will be expecting a new approach from his hitters today in the series finale.

"It's going to come down to one of the core players coming in and getting a big hit. We've got to put together back-to-back-to-back good at bats," Gaspard said. "Right now, after (Taylor) Dugas, there's not much happening. You've got to string them together and guys have to be more competitive in their at bats."

Dugas, the Crimson Tide's senior leadoff hitter, batted 3 for 3 with a double and a triple. He scored both of UA's runs Saturday, but the rest of the lineup combined to bat just 6 for 32.

"We got down a little bit and tried to make a little noise and spark a comeback," Dugas said. "But we've got to stick with our approach better as a team. Hopefully we'll get that spark for tomorrow. We've got to regroup and have better at bats tomorrow, definitely."

By the time Dugas tripled into the gap in the eighth inning, the Owls had already built a comfortable lead of 7-1. The series finale begins at noon today at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.

Added Gaspard: "We've got to have a better plan. Right now we're going away from our approach of what we've been working on for the last six months."

Florida Atlantic pitching was strong for the second consecutive day. The Owls' starting pitchers have each thrown six solid innings over two days, with Jake Meiers allowing just one run Saturday without issuing a walk. Kevin Alexander, in his first action since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, pitched three strong innings in relief for the win. The Owls' pitching has allowed only two walks in the entire series.

Gaspard said FAU's staff has consistently thrown strikes with three different pitches, and that the Crimson Tide needs to concentrate more on hitting to center and the opposite field on Sunday. Meiers struck out three and threw 51 strikes on 80 pitches.

"Jake's been a steady guy for us for a couple of years, then Kevin came in, and it was really good to see Kevin throw well," said Owls coach John McCormack. "He had missed all of last year with Tommy John surgery. We pitched well and got some timely hitting, and it was a good day, other than the weather."

The expectation of rain compelled UA to start Saturday's game at 10 a.m., but that wasn't quite early enough to keep conditions dry.

"The umpire had mentioned to our first base coach that if it had been in the fifth or sixth inning, we probably would have bagged it for the day," McCormack said. "But since we were in the seventh or eighth, (we played). These (grounds crew) guys have a lot of work ahead of them -- putting a tarp on a wet field makes it difficult for (Sunday)."

UA starting pitcher Charley Sullivan struggled, allowing four runs on six hits in four innings. Reliever Spencer Turnbull gave up three runs in three innings, and FAU's Geoff Jiminez homered to left field off UA reliever Brandt Hendricks in the ninth.

"Today it was plain and simple. We got outplayed in every area of the game. Florida Atlantic has played really well for the first two games, and I thought today we got sloppy," Gaspard said. "For our side of it, we're playing very timid and very unconfident, which is a surprise to me at the point. We've got to regroup and get back together and get our offense rolling."

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com

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