Bama's bullpen more potent

After Auburn's Sean Gamble grounded out to end the game in Alabama's first win over Auburn in the SEC Tournament, Taylor Tankersley pumped his fist in the air, yelled in celebration, and high-fived his teammates after the come-from-behind victory.

There was one thing evident about the sophomore left-handed pitcher from Vicksburg, Miss. that had been lacking throughout the vast portion of conference play.

He looked like he was in a comfort zone. The comfort zone that made him successful as a reliever in his freshman season, a year where he went 8-5 with a 2.52 earned run average, five saves, and was named a Freshman All-American.

Working out of the bullpen, Tankersley was a big part of Bama's recent SEC Tournament title. (photo by Tom Neil)

Every weekend during the regular season, Tankersley found himself starting either the Friday or Saturday game. It started off well, as Tankersley pitched the Tide to an opening game victory over Louisiana-Lafayette at Minute Maid Park, and won his first five decisions. The highlight of that was a complete game victory over SEC Champion LSU, where he scattered eight hits and struck out eight in a 4-2 Alabama victory.

The final seven starts of the conference season were, for the most part, starts Tankersley would like to forget. He went 1-5 in those five starts, compiling a 9.87 ERA. His only win came against Arkansas, in a game where he pitched well, allowing only three hits after seven and one-third innings. But there were also outings against Auburn (4 and 1/3 IP, 9 H, 7 ER), Ole Miss (1/3 IP, 6 H, 9 R, 2 ER), Tennessee (1 and 1/3 IP, 7 ER), and Mississippi State (5 and 1/3 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 8 ER) where Tankersley wasn't as successful.

"Mechanically I was up and down throughout the season," Tankersley said. "Mentally I was up and down throughout the season. "It takes a little bit of fatigue on you late but you've got to put all of that out of your mind. It's a new season."

The fact that he has thrown more and has been forced to last longer in games has taken a toll in Tankersley's velocity and movement. But after spending a weekend in the bullpen at the SEC Tournament, it seemed as if he had regained his Freshman All-American form.

Tankersley picked up the win when the Tide defeated Auburn, 7-5, pitching three scoreless innings. He came on in the sixth inning of the championship game against LSU with the Tide up 3-2. There was one out with runners on first and second, but Tankersley got Matt Liuzza to ground into a 1-6-3 double play to end the threat.

"It dropped at the end of the season but was back up at the tournament because I was throwing less pitches at a time," Tankersley said. "I wasn't out there for seven or eight innings, I was out there for two or three. My velocity picked back up a little bit and hopefully it will get back up to where it was last year. My curve was a lot better this weekend and a lot sharper. My fastball was running more than it has been in a while."

Tankersley is back in the bullpen to give Wells another option with closer Brian Reed, a move that will ultimately make the team better if his starting pitchers can last deep into the regional games.

That's something we're leaning towards doing," Wells said. "Rather than have one guy and you use him and you're done. Last year that was the key to our success, having the two guys. We've cut that in half this year because we had no one to go with Reed."

Tankersley will give the Tide a potent lefty/righty combination out of the bullpen during Regional play.

It's something that Tankersley is definitely comfortable doing.

"I think it makes the team stronger having a lefty and a righty coming out of (the pen)," Tankersley said. "Me and Reed were very comfortable being a tandem last year. We fell back into that comfort zone last weekend in Birmingham. I'd like to see it happen, but its up to the coach, whatever he wants us to do. I want to win. I want the team to win. Whatever role I can do to help the team win is fine with me."

Last summer, Tankersley played in the prestigious Cape Cod League, where invitations are sent out to the top players in the country for the wooden bat league. The plan was also to play this summer with teammate Brent Carter, but Tankersley decided to take the summer off, his first summer off from baseball since he was 11.

"I'm gonna stay here, take some classes, work out, and get rejuvenated for next season," Tankersley said. "Ultimately its my decision to make but there were some influences from a support group around me, with Coach Wells being in that support group helping me make that decision."

He certainly deserves the rest.

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