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February 15, 2013

BASEBALL: Alabama ready to put 2012 season behind

TUSCALOOSA | It's been 13 seasons since the last time the University of Alabama baseball team pilgrimaged to the College World Series. For the winningest program in Southeastern Conference history, it seems longer.

But maybe not as long as the offseason felt to UA coach Mitch Gaspard and his squad, which are anxious to prove that last season was an aberration. Tonight the Crimson Tide hopes to forever erase 2012 and take the first step toward getting back to Omaha.

For Alabama to make that leap, a group of young pitchers must progress, the defense, highlighted by three freshmen up the middle, must provide stellar play and Crimson Tide hitters need to be clutch.

The team looked solid in all three areas during fall play and in the weeks leading up to tonight's opener, but that hasn't kept Gaspard and his staff from fretting. Until the real games begin, you never know.

"We'll find out a lot more this weekend," Gaspard said.

Shortstop Mikey White, second baseman Kyle Overstreet and center fielder Georgie Salem, all freshmen, solidified UA's defense during scrimmages and are locked in at their respective positions.

Wade Wass was set to be the primary catcher but sustained a broken bone in his right foot during a scrimmage. He is expected to miss six weeks. UA is hopeful that he will return to DH for the Tennessee series and resume catching duties thereafter.

Senior Brett Booth will start at catcher tonight and play third base some this season. Kenny Roberts will start at third and Austen Smith is at first. Ben Moore returns to right field after a Freshman All-American rookie campaign and Ryan Blanchard will start tonight in left.

Sophomore right-hander Spencer Turnbull, who turned more than a few heads during preseason outings, earned the first start of the season with a rebuilt body and a three-pitch repertoire that has already caught the attention of Major League Baseball scouts.

"He put on about 20 pounds over the summer, and he came back looking like a man whereas last year he was a kid," Moore said. "His last few outings he's been lights out. There's been a hit here and there but overall no one's really touched him or got a barrel on a ball. He throws real hard, and he throws down at the knees."

Turnbull's fastball has been 90 to 94 during his last three outings in preseason scrimmages. He's just one of a few pitchers that have Gaspard optimistic.

"Last year our guys had just one pitch with command," he said. "Now many guys are getting two and some three pitches with command. That allows you to set up hitters. That allows you to put hitters away."

It's an optimism that abounds in the Alabama dugout.

"With what we went through last year…We put in the work to come out here and if we do what we do I feel pretty confident that we'll have a great season and turn this thing around," Moore said.

Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron.suttles@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0229.

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