Alabama Looks to Ride Momentum Into SEC Tournament
Alabama (30-26,12-18 SEC) had difficulty meeting its high expectations for the 2015 season. The team was projected to finish 2nd in the SEC West standings despite having to play their home games 50 miles away from Tuscaloosa.
The Crimson Tide finished 6th in the SEC West standings, and, instead of coasting into the SEC tournament with ease, they had to rely on a Georgia loss to Arkansas just to guarantee a spot in the SEC tournament. A 1-0 victory over Vanderbilt in its regular season finale put Alabama in the tournament as the 11th seed where they will face Ole Miss.
Most of the Tide's disappointing losses were caused by inconsistencies all over the field. However, it appears that this team is starting to take shape at the perfect time.
Alabama is 7-2 in their last nine games, which includes a series sweep over Auburn. Tide pitchers have only allowed 25 runs across that stretch after allowing 47 runs in the nine games prior. At one point this season, Alabama had the worst team ERA in the conference. They enter the tournament ranked 8th in the SEC in team ERA (3.98).
Unfortunately, the pitching rotation will have to operate in the tournament without relief pitcher Mitch Greer. Greer (1-1, 3.86 ERA, 18 SO, 10 BB) left Friday's game against Vanderbilt with an apparent elbow injury. He has one of the best fastballs on the team, so moving forward without him will be challenging.
Mitch Gaspard will start RHP Geoffrey Bramblett (7-3, 4.13 ERA, 59 SO, 25 BB) against Ole Miss. Bramblett has been the most consistent starting pitcher this season. He only allowed eight hits and three runs across 7.0 innings in a 13-4 win over the Rebels earlier this season.
Alabama will also enter the tournament with an improved lineup. The Tide has remained consistent all season behind the bats of Casey Hughston and Mikey White. Hughston leads the team in hits (73) and RBIs (41), while White leads the team in batting average (.341), runs scored (45), and doubles (19).
The recent emergence of Kyle Overstreet, Cody Henry, and Georgie Salem has paid dividends to the Tide's improvement. Overstreet is in the midst of a nine-game hitting streak, and he is batting .316 with two doubles and three RBIs during that time period. Henry has 10 hits, five doubles, one triples, seven RBIs, and eight runs scored across the same time period. Salem has batted .458 in his last six games with two RBIs and five runs scored.
The improved lineup still has a problem with striking out. Alabama batters have struck out 451 times across 56 games this season. The most team strikeouts in the Mitch Gaspard era occurred in 2010 when Tide batters struck out 462 times, but that was across 67 games. This team is in desperate need of wins if they plan on making it to an NCAA tournament, so they cannot afford so many strikeouts.
Right now the Tide's best bet of making the NCAA tournament will be to win the SEC tournament. They can make it in without an SEC tournament victory, but they will need at least three or four impressive wins.
Despite the season struggles, Alabama has proved it is capable of competing with any team as they have wins over Texas A&M, Florida, Houston, and Vanderbilt. Mitch Gaspard still coaches one of the most talented teams in the entire country although the overall record might not reflect that.
The game between Alabama and Ole Miss is scheduled to begin at 9:30 am CT on the SEC Network. The entire schedule for the tournament can be found here.