Alabama Baseball Opens Season Friday

Alabama's baseball team is going to get a quick look at a highly-regarded opposing player when the Crimson Tide opens the 2014 season Friday at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. But Bama Coach Mitch Gaspard feels confident that Alabama has a good pitching staff and an improved offensive team.

Alabama opens its season at home against the St. Louis Billikens of the Atlantic 10 Conference with single games at 6 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. Sunday.

Both teams were NCAA Tournament participants a year ago. St. Louis is led by first baseman Mike Vigliarolo, who was Atlantic 10 Player of the Year in 2013 as he batted .341 with eight home runs and 42 RBI.

Junior right-hander Spencer Turnbull, who was 4-3 with a 3.70 earned run average last year, will start for Alabama. Gaspard said he plans to have his starters throw about 75 pitches each, a number that ordinarily translates to about six innings. Turnbull will be going against St. Louis senior right-hander Clay Smith, who was 8-3 last year with a 3.77 ERA.

The Saturday pitching match-ups have Bama junior left-hander Justin Kamplain (1-0, 4.77 last year) against junior right-hander James Norwood (0-2, 4.71) and Sunday it will be Tide sophomore right-hander Ray Castillo (2-3, 3.38) against sophomore lefty Josh Moore (1-2, 4.85). Castillo was a reliever last year with 26 appearances and an Alabama freshman record 12 saves.

Alabama was 35-28 last year (14-15 in the Southeastern Conference) and made the NCAA Tournament for the 23rd time and third in the last four years. St. Louis was 41-21 and won the Atlantic 10.

Gaspard, beginning his fifth season as Bama head coach, said, "I feel good about having some age on the team and we feel good about the work we did in the fall. I feel we're prepared to start the season."

The Tide is ranked in the nation's top 25 in four of the five college baseball polls, including 21st in both the Baseball America and Perfect Game USA ratings.

Alabama returns 21 lettermen from last year, including five position starters and four starting pitchers. Top returning Tide players are Freshman All-America performers Castillo and shortstop Mikey White, and Gold Glove second baseman Kyle Overstreet. White and Overstreet were key components in Bama turning 80 double plays last year, first in the SEC and second in the nation.

Gaspard said he feels good about his lineup. "The one area is the bullpen," he said. "We think we have the pieces, but it's a matter of where they slide in. We feel good about 10 or 12 guys on the mound."

The coach said he thinks Bama is "more physical" than last year and he expects improvement on the offensive end.

In addition to White and Overstreet, the Tide returns center fielder Georgie Salem, who batted .350 in SEC games and .287 for the season; first baseman Austen Smith, who led Bama with seven home runs and 15 doubles; and right fielder Ben Moore, Bama's leader in RBI with 41, stolen bases with 16, four triples, and slugging percentage of .416.

Alabama has an all-time record of 84-34-1 in season-openers and the Tide won its only previous game against St. Louis, a 14-0 decision in 1994.

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