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NCAA Regional Opponent Preview: Alabama

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Meet the Crimson Tide... The Wolfpack’s Ruston Regional opening opponent

NCAA BASEBALL: MAY 25 SEC Tournament

Who’s the Pack playing?

Opponent: Alabama

Mascot: Sea of specific color shade | School Location: Tuscaloosa, AL | Conference: SEC

2021 Record: 31-24 (12-17, 5th West) | 2021 RPI Rank: 33

2020 Record: 16-1 (0-0, T-1st West) | 2019 RPI Rank: 3

2019 Record: 30-26 (7-23, 7th West) | 2018 RPI Rank: 44


When? Where? How do I watch?

Location: J.C. Love Field at Pat Patterson Park (Ruston, LA)

Game Time(s): Fri, Jun 4 @ 2:00pm

TV: ESPN3 / WatchESPN

Radio: TuneIn

Live Stats: Sidearm Stats


Tell me about this team

Alabama Baseball doesn’t exactly scream “blue blood” the way Alabama Football does, but the program still has a strong history. With 14 Regular Season SEC titles, the Crimson Tide trail only LSU (17) and Florida (15) in conference history - although half of those regular season SEC titles Bama holds came before the end of World War II. They’re also tied for 2nd in SEC history (along with Florida and Mississippi State) with 7 SEC Tournament titles (LSU has 12). The Tide also have five College World Series appearances - including three in a four year run in the late 1990’s.

The peak Alabama Baseball run (at least for most living fans) was the dozen year run from 1995-2006. During that time, Bama won 6 SEC Tournament titles, 2 SEC Regular Season titles, and made 3 College World Series appearances, including two runner-up finishes.

Damn if that ain’t solid... but enough about the past. What about this team?

Well, okay. First another brief, more recent history of Alabama.

Jim Wells, the architect of that peak ‘95-’06 run, retired after the 2009 season. Alabama hired assistant coach Mitch Gaspard, a former LSU player, to replace him. Despite four regionals and a super regional (2010), things petered out as Gaspard turned in a 94-114 SEC record over seven seasons. Seeing the writing on the wall, he resigned after the 2016 season. Oddly enough, he’s now an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech.

Following Gaspard, Alabama took a turn with Greg Goff. This name may sound familiar to you because Goff made a name for himself just down the road from Raleigh in Buies Creek, turning a Campbell program that had all of one NCAA regional appearance to their name (thanks to a miracle conference tournament run in 1990 by a horrible team) into a program that went 131-49 over his final three seasons. From Campbell, Goff went to Louisiana Tech, which is where he was when Alabama poached him. Another interesting tie between the Tide and the regional hosts.

Goff got canned after one season in Tuscaloosa. Partly because he turned in the worst season for the program since before Wells stepped on campus, and partly because he was a bit of a dick who threatened kids scholarships due to poor on-field play.

Insert long-time SEC assistant coach Brad Bohannon. A former Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech player, Bohannon spent 12 seasons at Kentucky and two at Auburn before being hired by the Tide. So far, things have not been great, but this is Bohannon’s best team (well, not counting the shortened 2020 season).

This 2021 Alabama team made it into the NCAA tournament on a resume that basically reads: they beat the teams they should have beat and lost to the teams that should have beat them. This is a team that was middle of the pack in the SEC in batting average, doubles, home runs, and strikeouts, but they struggled in some significant areas: they’re the SEC’s worst team at working walks, which resulted in being pretty bad overall at getting guys on base, and also meant that when they did notch those hits, there was nobody to drive in. You don’t score runs, you don’t win games. It’s a simple game.

On the pitching side of things, Bama’s been down their ace (2020 1st Team All-American SO LHP Connor Prielipp) for all but three starts of the season, and the man who stepped into fill that open spot in the weekend rotation (SO LHP Antoine Jean) also went down to injury. The result has been a staff that is bottom third in the SEC in ERA, opponent batting average, strikeouts, and home runs allowed. The one thing they are good at, though, is not giving up many free passes - and the defense behind them is one of the best in the SEC.

All that said, there’s talent on the roster. There are two solid starting pitchers, a trio of top end relievers, the SEC’s best catcher, and a trio of All-SEC caliber infielders. You don’t get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament if you’re not at least a pretty good team.


Who’s on the mound for these guys?

Friday: RHP Tyler Ras (JR)


Key Players:

Offense

C Sam Praytor (rJR) - .283/.370/.532, 12 2B, 13 HR, 33 R, 46 RBI, 25 BB, 37 K, 2-3 SB. Alabama’s lone 1st Team All-SEC player in 2021. Buster Posey Award Watch List member. A wall behind the plate, allowing just two passed balls all year, but threw out just 11-of-45 attempted base stealers on the year. Had a great freshman year in 2018 before an arm injury cost him his 2019 season.

2B Peyton Wilson (SO) - .301/.360/.479, 13 2B, 1 3B, 9 HR, 46 R, 31 RBI, 20 BB, 39 K, 10-13 SB. Leadoff hitter and 2021 2nd Team All-SEC performer. Highly touted prep catcher who has moved to the infield thanks to the presence of Praytor behind the dish. Has hit 5 leadoff home runs this year.

3B Zane Denton (SO) - .310/.406/.481, 9 2B, 9 HR, 39 R, 38 RBI, 33 BB, 47 K, 2-2 SB. Looks like he’s 8. No, seriously. Click that link. Switch-hitter batted .272/.328/.386 in SEC play while earning SEC All-Defensive Team and Newcomer All-SEC honors.

1B Drew Williamson (JR) - .263/.374/.413, 12 2B, 4 HR, 32 R, 21 RBI, 25 BB, 41 K, 3-3 SB. An advanced hitter who had a dry run that had him entering SEC play at just .212, but then really turned it on from there, slashing .307/.411/.520 in conference. For some reason is still splitting time at 1B with a dude who slashed .235/.312/.367 in SEC play, but I mean that’s cool for us, I guess.

Pitching

RHP Tyler Ras (JR) - 7-4, 5.36 ERA, 82.1 IP, 86 H, 21 BB, 57 K. Native New Jerseyan who did what smart New Jerseyans do: he got the hell out. Two-way player early in his career who is a PO now. Friday night starter whose outings have been all over the place, but plenty capable of shutting a team down (see: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 6 K outing vs #1 Arkansas).

RHP Dylan Smith (JR) - 1-8, 4.13 ERA, 89.1 IP, 92 H, 20 BB, 106 K. Crimson Tide’s Saturday starter and their best (healthy) starting pitcher. Some serious hard-luck losses, including a pair of 7.0 IP, 1 R, 8+ K efforts. An 18th round pick (Padres) in the 2018 draft. Low-to-mid-90’s fastball who leans heavily on a slider as his out pitch.

RHP Chase Lee (JR) - 7-0, 7 SV, 1.21 ERA, 37.1 IP, 28 H, 10 BB, 47 K. Kid with a cool story. Started his college career on the Alabama Club Baseball Team and has worked his way to a Stopper-of-the-Year Watch List candidate. The sidearmer has only allowed a runner to cross the plate in 3 of his 21 outings.

RHP Landon Green (rSO) - 3-2, 2 SV, 4.55 ERA, 29.2 IP, 19 H, 15 BB, 35 K. His numbers were really good before giving up 9 ER over his last 3.0 IP, including getting blasted by Tennessee in the SEC Tournament. Control issues have been a problem in SEC play, walking 13, hitting 4, and uncorking 3 wild pitches over 19.1 IP. Has held hitters to a .167 average over that span, so the wildness is not without effectiveness.

RHP William Freeman (rSR) - 2-1, 1 SV, 2.41 ERA, 52.1 IP, 42 H, 9 BB, 38 K. Bama’s most often-used arm, working as a starter and a reliever. Was selected in the 36th round of the 2018 draft (also by the Padres) out of JUCO ball.


Quick! Fun Facts!

Alabama 2B Peyton Wilson is the younger brother of former Alabama QB John Parker Wilson.

NC State is 3-2 all-time versus Alabama, winning the last match-up between the two in 2016 in a game played at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary.

Four of the previous five meetings between the Tide and Pack have come in the NCAA Tournament. NC State won (3-1) in 1968 the 1968 District 3 Championship in Gastonia before advancing to the College World Series. Alabama won (6-3) in the 1997 South II Regional they hosted before advancing to the CWS. The programs split their West Regional match-ups in Palo Alto in 1998, with NC State winning the first game (13-10) before being eliminated by Alabama (9-2) in the second game. Long Beach State then beat Alabama to advance to the CWS.


Prediction

Working in the Wolfpack’s favor with this match-up is Alabama’s almost complete lack of left-handed pitching options. The Tide have just two healthy left-handed pitchers on the roster, ranking 10th and 12th in innings pitched on the team. That bodes well for State given the propensity of left-handed hitters in the lineup.

Outcome: I have learned my lesson from the ACC Tournament Championship Game. Postseason predictions lead to nothing but pain. Besides, I don’t want to be the next OmegaWolf or anything...