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February 21, 2013

Hot-hitting Tide hits the road

TUSCALOOSA | It was an opening series sweep, Alabama outscored 23-8 in three losses to Florida Atlantic, and it was a microcosm for the entire 2012 season.

Alabama remembers the way the promise of last year quickly slid off the table, like an FAU slider befuddling Crimson Tide hitters.

Much of that same FAU team takes the field this weekend. Alabama remembers and is in better position to do something about it, starting tonight.

"Last year they came in here and put in on us," senior catcher Brett Booth said.

A veteran Owls pitching staff provides a formidable challenge for a revamped Crimson Tide offense, one that is averaging nearly nine runs a game. FAU pitchers have struck out 37 batters and walked 10. They allow 3.75 runs a game.

"They're not going to beat themselves," UA coach Mitch Gaspard said. "They're going to play very good baseball. Looking at their numbers they throw a lot of strikes. It's a team you're going to have to go beat them. They're not going to beat themselves. The difference for us is that our personnel matches up a whole lot better with them than it did a year ago."

It's hard to find fault in the way Alabama's opened the season, sweeping Virginia Military Institute and powering past No. 21 Southern Miss. If there is one area that needs a tune-up, it's the starting pitching.

Sophomore left-hander Taylor Guilbeau gave UA its first quality start in the win against Southern Miss Tuesday night, but Gaspard is looking for improvement from weekend starters Charley Sullivan, Jon Keller and Spencer Turnbull.

None of the three lasted more than 4 1/3 innings.

"I was not pleased with their starts last weekend," Gaspard said.

Certainly the cold weather played a factor as well as opening-season jitters. Booth, who has caught all four games this season, said the mindset will be different this weekend.

"Just more aggressive," Booth said. "I think they went out this weekend trying to feel them out more on the defense than on the attack. This weekend you're going to see three guys who are going to be on the attack pounding the strike zone and give us that good starts we need."

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

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