Tide infield should be solid

Two All-SEC performers are gone, but a pool of talent and experience returns along with a newcomer or two expected to make an impact.

The expected loss was Brent Boyd. Last year, Boyd hit .287 with eight home runs and 51 runs batted in while playing second and first base.

The unexpected loss was that of Peter Stonard, who hit .411 with five home runs, 42 runs batted in, and stole 18 bases. He was dismissed from the team in November for a violation of University policy. He is now playing at San Diego State under coach Tony Gwynn.

"It was tough at first," senior outfielder Beau Hearod said. "I think it brought us closer together. We all realized that we lost a good guy but someone's got to step up."

The person who looks to benefit the most from the loss of Stonard is sophomore Allen Rice. Rice, who played third base last season, had difficulty at the plate in his freshman year as he only batted .241. However, Tide coach Jim Wells likes what he has seen in Rice in practices.

"I'm really proud of him," Wells said. "He's made that turnaround to the next level jump that you hope all your players do after a year. He's really playing well."

Wells is also comfortable with his defense, as he moved him to second base so he could have more opportunities to field the ball.

"Allen had improved to the degree where we like the ball in his hands," Wells said. "The guys in the middle are going to handle it a lot more than the guys on the corners."

Rice's double play partner will be Adam Pavkovich, a junior who started the majority of the games last year at shortstop. Pavkovich hit .272 last season with six home runs, and held off newcomer Billy Hogan at the position. Hogan has since transferred to a junior college in Arizona.

Pavkovich returns at shortstop.

The spring's biggest loss was that of Carlos Sosa. Sosa, who was slowed by an Achilles tendon injury last season, was expected to man the third base position and be one of the Tide's top hitters. Wells said now that freshman Evan Bush from Southside in Gadsden will get the first shot at third base, but sophomore Spencer Pennington has moved over from first to third base. Pennington played third base in high school.

"We moved Spencer over there to give us another option," Wells said. "I think it will be good for him, because we need him to be able to hit, and we also take care of the crowded position at first base."

First base had three contenders, and now it is down to two. Sophomore Zac Welch is leading the battle, and the strong lefty will be expected to put up some big numbers for the Tide this season. Junior-college transfer Nathan Meiners is also expected to contribute at the position.

Although Hearod has been working in the outfield, he has played third base in the past and could play there if needed. Another infield option is redshirt freshman Trey Moody, who is backing up Pavkovich and Rice in the middle infield positions.

A final option is Shaud Williams, who is working at second base and in center field. Williams, the football team's leading rusher, decided to give baseball another shot. He played at Texas Tech, and was an 11th round draft pick by the Atlanta Braves coming out of high school.

"Shaud's fast," Wells said. "We've determined that. He's real quick. We haven't seen that element."

The infield should be solid defensively, and could produce some good offensive numbers. Pavkovich will be the leader of this group, although he can't have 23 errors like he did last season. Welch and Rice struggled at the plate last season, and will be expected to improve. Bush is a freshman that has played well, and Pennington has a nice stroke.

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