Tide Meets Tigers In Capital Classic

Regardless of sport, coaches have issues where they disagree. For instance, the pace of play in football. Most college teams play in a conference, and in most cases the conference competition comes after a warm-up period – brief in football, longer in sports like basketball and baseball. And one philosophical difference has been how difficult that non-conference schedule should be.

Former Crimson Tide Basketball Coach C.M. Newton was a proponent of the difficult non-conference schedule. "You have to beat the best to be the best," was his mantra on the subject. Others like the cupcake path to an impressive pre-conference record that, point out the supporters of that plan, gives an opportunity for playing time for unproven players and can build confidence.

This season, Alabama Baseball Coach Mitch Gaspard has been in the "tough schedule" camp. The Tide started with games against a veteran St. Louis team, included an early road trip to Southern Miss, and most dramatically and most recently had three games last weekend at powerful Louisiana-Lafayette, ranked 10th in the nation among the over 200 college baseball teams in Division I.

For a couple of days, that trip to Louisiana didn't look like such a good idea. The Ragin' Cajuns won on both Friday and Saturday with shutouts. But on Sunday, it was a different story. Alabama's bats came alive and the Tide trounced ULL with 21 hits and a 12-6 victory.

Gaspard said, "We played our best offensive game of the year on Sunday. We did some things we hadn't done in the first nine games. There was a different feel in the dugout. The group really came together.

"Our pitching has held up. If we can get more consistent on offense, our play can be much better.

"We've played a difficult schedule and we think that has helped us to get better. Now we need to build on it."

That building starts tonight in a game that doesn't count in one respect, but is very important in another.

Alabama (5-5) is in Montgomery to take on Auburn (6-5) in the sixth annual MAX Capital City Classic at Riverwalk Stadium at 6:30 p.m.

Although both teams are members of the Southeastern Conference, this is regarded by the league as no more than an exhibition game. It is regarded by those on both sides, though, as important because it is a rivalry game.

To be sure, it hasn't been much of a rivalry. The previous five games between the Tide and Tigers have all been won by Auburn.

Fortunately, that has not proved a precursor to games that matter.

After losing by 6-3 to Auburn in Montgomery last year, the Tide went to Auburn and won all three SEC games.

In a series that dates from 1896, Alabama holds an all-time advantage of 149-123. Against Auburn, Alabama is 3-2 over the last five games, 7-3 over the last 10 and 11-9 over the last 20 games played between the two schools. Gaspard is 10-8 all-time when coaching against Auburn. Auburn Coach Sonny Galloway will be coaching against the Tide for the first time in his career.

Alabama is expected to start freshman right-hander Nick Eicholtz, while the Tigers will go with sophomore right-hander Justin Camp.

Eicholtz (0-0, 0.00 ERA) will make his fourth appearance of the season and second start. Last week against Southern Miss, Eicholtz threw five innings, allowing one unearned run on four hits with a walk and four strikeouts in his first career start. For the year, Eicholtz has given up just an unearned run in 10 innings with seven strikeouts and four walks, and opponents are hitting .176 against him.

The Alabama pitching staff has been very good this season, posting the fifth best ERA in the SEC with a 2.25 mark. In 92 innings, Alabama has given up 28 runs (23 earned) on 64 hits with 68 strikeouts and 39 walks. Opponents are hitting just .207 against the Tide this season. In 47 innings this season, the Tide bullpen has allowed just 10 runs (9 earned) for a 1.72 ERA, while allowing a .244 batting average.

\The Crimson Tide is hitting .254 as a team this season, while averaging 3.9 runs and 9.1 hits per game. The 12 runs against ULL on Sunday were the most for the Tide since scoring 15 runs against Samford on March 19, 2013. The 21 hits against UL-Lafayette on March 2, marked the first 20-hit performance for UA since having 20 against Tennessee on March 17, 2013, and the most since having 23 hits against Illinois-Chicago on Feb. 27, 2010.

Offensively, the Tide is paced by senior first baseman Austen Smith, who has a team-high .333 batting average, after hitting .417 (5-for-12) last week, to go along with a team-leading seven RBI. Georgie Salem leads the team with 14 hits and is second on the team with a .318 batting average and Ben Moore has scored a team-high seven runs, is second with six RBI and is third on the club with a .275 average.

Leading the Tigers offense this season is senior outfielder Ryan Tella with a .433 batting average through 11 games, to rank fifth in the SEC. Damek Tomscha has the team's only home run this season. He leads the team and ranks 11th in the SEC with 10 RBI and he's second on the club with a .370 batting average. Tomscha also leads the team with a .519 slugging percentage and a .528 on-base percentage. Anfernee Grier leads the squad with 14 hits and three doubles while hitting .350 in 11 starts in right field.

Projected Auburn starting pitcher Justin Camp is 0-1 with a 2.13 ERA. Camp has made three appearances with one start this season. He was the losing pitcher in his only start of the season with the Tigers dropped a 9-3 decision to Alabama State on Feb. 18. This season Camp has thrown 12.2 innings, allowing three runs on nine hits with four walks and 11 strikeouts.

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