Baseball, Softball Make Impressions

With sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 70s, it was too nice a day to sit around watching basketball on TV, so I ventured to Tuscaloosa early to take on the Saturday softball and baseball games prior to the Arkansas/Alabama hoops contest. I was able to spend about 90 minutes at each ball park. Alabama fans agreed, as both parks were about three-fourths full.

Quick synopsis of the Alabama teams: Some things change, and others remain the same. When it comes to pitching, seniors Kelsi Dunne in softball and Nathan "Peanut" Kilcrease in baseball, are both the pictures of consistency they've been during their stays at The Capstone.

At the Bama Bash, Dunne baffled previously unbeaten Syracuse in Bama's 9-0, five-inning win over the Orange, by allowing one hit to go with 13 strikeouts and no walks. Whitehead, all 5-feet-6 of him (at 6 feet, Dunne is taller), did much the same to the Braves. Not the ones from Atlanta; but the men from Alcorn State. The diminutive fan favorite went six frames to pick up his first win, striking out eight, walking one and hitting a batter, as Mitch Gaspard's Tide won 5-1 and improved to 2-0.

(The softball team was 8-0 with a game to go Saturday and another Sunday.)

Once again, Bama Softball Coach Patrick Murphy's team has speed to burn, with players like Kayla Braud, Jennifer Fenton, Jazlyn Lunceford and reserve Keima Davis good enough to win many track meets in the 4 x 100 relay. The move from second base to left field seems to have helped Braud relax more, and freshman Kaila Hunt is filling in nicely at second.

Meanwhile, freshman Jackie Traina is providing both power and pitching, as Murphy uses the young slugger as his Designated Player on days she's not in the pitcher's circle.

Dunne (4-0) is almost always dominant, and when you throw in Traina and sophomore Lauren Sewell, you've got quite a rotation. At one point against Syracuse, Dunne threw 17 of 23 pitches for strikes.

Power-wise, Cassie Reilly-Boccia and Whitney Larsen, along with Traina and a few others, give this Tide team what it takes to be a force to be reckoned with both in the SEC and nationally. A double-steal by Larsen and Fenton followed by a Reilly-Boccia bomb exemplified the 2011 Tide offense in the first inning, and when catcher Kendall Dawson went deep in the third, it meant every Bama starter has at least one homer already.

Power is in shorter supply over at "The Joe," but that's due to a combination of new bats mandated by the NCAA and personnel changes necessitated by the loss of Gaspard's entire infield. Still, it appears at this very early juncture that there is power potential from juco transfer Josh Rosecrans at first, sophomore third baseman Brett Booth, and shortstop Josh Reaves.

Pitching-wise, Gaspard appears to have a solid SEC rotation, with Adam Morgan, Kilrease, and Tucker Hawley, though the latter lacks the experience the first two offer. Defensively, the new infield will obviously have to mesh, but there is plenty of time for that. A botched foul pop Saturday showed just that.

Gaspard has speed, too, just not as much as Murphy. Centerfielder Taylor Dugas at the top of the order is one of the SEC (and nation's) best leadoff men, and is a threat to steal every time he gets on base. Ironically, through two games, Dugas has the team's only homer, a line shot over the right field wall to open the Tide first Saturday.

At this point in time, and it's early, the softball team is further along and likely to advance further in the post-season than is the baseball squad, due to experience, chemistry and, to be fair, talent. Thing is, one would have -- and did -- say the exact same thing a year ago, before Gaspard's team rose from the ashes the final month to shock the nation.

Bottom line: anything is possible. It's early, and at this point, everyone is full of optimism, at both the baseball and softball stadiums. And that's how it should be.

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