Kilcrease Starts Atlanta Regional

ATLANTA – The NCAA Baseball Tournament begins Friday with Alabama opening the Atlanta Regional against Elon. The Crimson Tide is going with its second day pitcher, while the Elon Phoenix will pitch its ace.

Alabama, the second seed in the Atlanta Regional, will meet Elon, the third seed, at 3 p.m. EDT (2 p.m. central time) at Russ Chandler Stadium on the campus of Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are the host team for the regional and the number one seed. Georgia Tech will play the fourth seed, Mercer, in the second Friday game at 7 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. central). Tech is the overall number eight seed in the 64-team tournament.

All seven games in the Atlanta Regional will be retionally televised by CSS.

Although Jimmy Nelson has evolved into Alabama's number one pitcher, Crimson Tide Coach Mitch Gaspard has elected to go with junior right-hander Nathan Kilcrease in the opener. Kilcrease is 6-2 with a 2.47 earned run average. He began the season as Bama's relief ace, but was converted to starting duty late in the season and responded heroically as the Tide won eight consecutive games down the stretch to play its way into the NCAA Tournament.

Kilcrease had a complete game victory to give Alabama the series win against Ole Miss, pitched nine innings in an 11-inning win as Bama swept Tennessee to make the Southeastern Conference Tournament, and won the second game of the SEC Tournament with a complete game win over Mississippi.

Following Alabama's 75-minute practice at Russ Chandler Stadium Thursday, Kilcrease said, "I am excited. I figured I might get the nod on the first day after Jimmy (Nelson) pitched again on Sunday (vs. LSU) and I had the most rest. This is the most rest I've had coming into a start. I'm very excited and my arm feels really good."

Nelson pitched two innings in Alabama's 4-3 loss in 11 innings to LSU in the SEC Tournament Championship Game.

Kilcrease was asked about the keys to his pitching success this year.

"Hard work and sticking with the game plan throughout this process that Coach (Kyle) Bunn gave to us early in the season," Kilcrease said. "He said it was not going to be easy and we had to keep going and keep grinding and things would get tough, but as our team has done all year, we persevere and get through it. As a pitching staff, we have peaked at the right time."

Elon will counter with junior left-hander Jimmy Reyes, who has compiled a 10-3 record and 3.97 ERA. He is coming off a 1-0 complete-game win over Samford in the Southern Conference Tournament and is fourth all-time at Elon with 236 career strikeouts.

Following Thursday's practice, Gaspard, who is in his first year as Alabama's head coach, said, "We are obviously very excited to be here at the Atlanta Regional at Georgia Tech, especially considering where we were at three weeks ago. Obviously the momentum and the roll that we are on now from the Tennessee series and into the SEC Tournament, but also to be four hours from home and to be able to take a bus and our fans have the opportunity to see us play this weekend is tremendous.

"One thing I will say about this team. This team has been through a lot this year. The grind of the season is one thing. We fought through injuries and now the David Kindred situation. (Tide designated hitter David Kindred has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and will miss the rest of the season prior to beginning treatment for the cancer.)

"I cannot say enough about the young men on our team, the character they have shown through the course of this year. The one thing we've talked about all year is to stay the course and stay with it and the game has a chance to come back in your favor and that's what happened the last three week.

"I am really, really proud to be the coach of these guys and the way they have handled themselves on and off the field. I've been coaching 23 years and truly never been through a year like this one with all the many things this team has had to handle and the way they have handled it has been tremendous for a young group of guys."

Gaspard was asked about the keys for Bama in Atlanta.

"The key in postseason is you have to have great starting pitching, you've got to really defend it, and you have to have timely hitting and that's what we're getting right now," he said. "We got that in Hoover for the SEC Tournament and we need for that to carry on over into the regional."

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