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March 22, 2013

Baseball offense in a groove since meeting

TUSCALOOSA | It's been a little more than a week and six games since the University of Alabama baseball team had its spirited late-night meeting.

The issue at hand was lack of energy night-in and night-out, but the specific problem might as well have been the results at the plate.

The meeting may not have solved every ailment, but it got immediate results. Alabama's won five of six games since and scored a total of 58 runs, a 4.92 increase in runs a game from the season average leading up to the meeting.

"I think it's a combination of just a lot of different things," UA coach Mitch Gaspard said. "I think some guys have got some confidence. They realize there are certain things and a way we have to play and a style we have to play. I think our mentality changed from being passive once or twice a week to understanding that we have to be aggressive everyday that we play. The guys have taken hold of that. With it we've had a little success.

"We're getting production from some veteran guys that are being consistent."

One such player is junior first baseman Austen Smith. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder enters the Georgia series swinging a red-hot bat.

With a five-game hitting streak that began last Friday against Tennessee, Smith is 10-for-20 with eight runs scored and six RBIs. His best game of the season came Wednesday with a 3-hit outing against Samford in which he hit his first home run of the season.

"As good as he's swinging the bat it's because he's laying off bad pitches and keeping himself in a good count," Gaspard said. "He's hitting strikes. Typically when Austen goes bad it's because he's more in that chase mode and he's chasing that slider. Really over the last couple of weeks he's been taking the slider down, and the pitches he's hitting are either fastballs up in the zone or breaking balls that are elevated a little bit. When he does that he's a good hitter."

Freshman reliever Mitch Greer is available beginning Saturday after missing a week with shoulder soreness. However, reliever Jake Hubbard, who was injured in Wednesday's game against Jacksonville State, is expected to miss the rest of the season with an elbow injury.

Reach Aaron Suttles Aaron@TideSports.com or at 205-722-0229.

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