Alabama and Notre Dame are two of the handful of traditional college football elite. This year’s Crimson Tide basketball team has won games that seemed impossible in the pre-season, including over the Fighting Irish. Now comes baseball.
Alabama and Notre Dame meet at 4 p.m. CST (5 p.m. Eastern) Friday in Cary, N.C., in the USA Baseball-Irish Classic presented by the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance. The Crimson Tide, ranked 27th in the nation this week and riding a six-game winning streak, will also play Niagara and North Carolina State on Saturday, and will close out tournament play Sunday against Brown.
Alabama Coach Mitch Gaspard will start junior right-hander Geoffrey Bramblett against Notre Dame. The Irish also go with a junior righty, Ryan Smoyer.
Notre Dame is part of a very tough schedule for Bama. The Irish played in an NCAA Regional Tournament last season and Notre Dame is receiving votes in national polls this year.
Alabama started the season with a series win over nationally-ranked Maryland, and the Crimson Tide has had big production from young players since that opener. The Tide has started eight freshmen or sophomores, four of them having started in all eight games.
Sophomores Chandler Avant and Cody Henry and freshmen Chandler Taylor and Cobie Vance have started every game. Others who have started are sophomore Connor Short and freshmen Sam Finnerty, Gene Wood, and Keith Holcombe (a sophomore linebacker in football, but a freshman as a member of the Tide baseball team).
Three of Bama’s top four batting averages come from these underclassmen: Short (.375), Taylor (.367), and Vance (.333). Taylor and Vance are tied for the team lead in hits with 11 each and Taylor leads in total bases (16).
The pitching story has been primarily about the bullpen. In 32innings of work, Bama relief pitchers have combined for a 1.41 earned run average, struck out 36 and walked only 7, and allowing opposition hitting a .142 batting average. Bama has not given up a ninth inning run this year. The relievers have a combined 5-0 record with four saves.
Thomas Burrows, a junior left-hander, has been a three-year staple as the Crimson Tide closer and has four saves this year and a school record 22 saves in his career.
Following this weekend’s tournament, Bama returns to Sewell-Thomas Stadium to play Oregon on Thursday, March 10, followed by three games hosting Houston.