Bama spells relief R-E-E-D

In all of baseball there is probably no tougher job than that of closer. By definition he doesn't enter the game unless there's trouble brewing. And after precious little time to warm-up, it's his job to put out the fire. <br><br>Starting pitching, solid defense and the ability to score runs are all vital to a team's success. But if you want to win championships, you'd better find a closer.

It isn't just a matter of throwing strikes. The job requires a reckless toughness that frankly most pitchers don't possess. "I was a starter all through high school and junior college, but I've always had that mindset," said Brian Reed, Bama's designated closer. "I played football and I was smaller than most of my teammates.

"I've learned to be tough. You've got to have that mindset."

Despite being a starter through high school and junior college, Reed has excelled coming out of the bullpen for the Tide.

For the year Reed has appeared in 27 games with 51 and a third innings to his credit. That works out to less than two innings per appearance, illustrating his role as closer. Reed's record is a perfect 5-0, with nine crucial saves to his credit.

"Brian has got a lot of toughness to him," said Tide Head Coach Jim Wells. "He's one of the few kids that when we recruited him we said we were looking for somebody to close. Of course everybody is a starter, and you have to convert them. But he wanted that role, which is unusual.

"He told us he would relish that role."

Reed and his teammates won the SEC Tournament championship last weekend, earning the right to host this weekend's NCAA Regional at Sewell-Thomas Field in Tuscaloosa. The Tide faces Southeast Missouri State this afternoon at 6:30, while Auburn and Florida Atlantic face off at 1:30 pm. Should Alabama win the double-elimination tournament, the Tide will also host next weekend's Super Regional.

As closer Reed's job is to throw strikes, and his statistics bear that out. Averaging almost one strikeout per inning, he has walked a measly 13 batters--barely one bases on balls for every four innings of work. "I try and change my angles and give the hitters a different look," Reed explained. "That's helped me with my strikeouts this year."

His 1.75 Earned Run Average leads the Tide pitching staff, but Reed deflects credit elsewhere. "Even when I don't have my best stuff, my teammates pick me up. They get me out of some jams."

As much as any of Alabama's frontline stars, credit for the Tide's success belongs to Reed and his fellow relievers. But he was hardly one of Bama's top recruits last season. Pitching for Meridian Junior College, Reed had good but not great statistics.

But while scouting a different Meridian pitcher, Coach Wells discovered this year's closer. "I got here almost by accident," Reed explained. "They were recruiting my teammate Martin LaRocca real heavy. Coach Wells happened to see me come in relief of him one game. By the grace of God I got here--just because of a teammate.

Reed learned toughness playing against bigger and stronger athletes on the football field--an experience he believes gives him a mental edge on the mound.

"You never know who's watching you. Coach Wells got a chance to see me, and I wanted to come here."

Alabama ended up signing Reed, LaRocca and right fielder Travis Garner off that Meridian team. But the heavily recruited LaRocca has been injured all season, while Reed has developed into a mainstay of the Tide staff. "I throw mainly fastballs," Reed said. "But I've got different kinds. I throw a two-seamer that moves away from right-hand hitters. But my best pitch is a slider, and I'll throw a change-up to left-handed hitters. So I mainly throw three pitches, and I've got a fourth one if I need it."

After failing to make the SEC tournament last season, Wells identified a weak bullpen as a chief concern. And signing pitchers capable of filling that role was a key goal. "Brian has done a good job all year," Wells said. "He and (Taylor) Tankersley both have been a difference in our team. This year we can stop people in situations where last year we couldn't. That's been the difference in this team."

Sporting an ERA more than two and a half runs lower this year than last, Reed is obviously flourishing in the role of closer. "Coach Wells had a discussion with his bullpen earlier (last week)," Reed said. "He just told me, ‘Get the job done. I'm putting Tank (Tankersley) in the rotation. The relief role is yours. I want the ball in your hands.'"

"I love Coach Wells," Reed continued. "He's been so good to me this year. The big thing is I don't want to disappoint him. And then you've got 10,000 fans in the stands, and you don't want to disappoint them either. But mainly I don't want to disappoint Coach Wells. That's part of why I have the mindset that I do."

During the season Reed and Tankersley shared the role of reliever, but tournament time dictates different strategy. Tankersley has been moved to the starting rotation, leaving Reed alone in the role of closer. "I'm all for it," Reed said. "I want to be on the mound in Omaha in the ninth inning with a chance to win it all."

Making it to Omaha and the College World Series is the principal goal for this year's team. But before that can happen Reed and his teammates must make it through Regional and Super Regional competition.

"Getting big homeruns, pitching big games at the SEC tournament--that just makes us know we've always got a chance to win," Reed explained. "But headed into Regionals, we've got our work cut out for us. Our pitching is in good shape, and our hitting is coming around. I expect big things from here on out."

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