Preview: Alabama Prepares For Road Matchup With #18 Missouri
Alabama (19-16, 6-9 SEC) capped off its season sweep of UAB with a 5-1 win on Tuesday night. A three-run homer by Will Haynie in the 2nd inning gave them the early lead, and the Blazers were never able to catch up.
The Tide now hits the road to take on #18 Missouri. The Tigers (24-13, 10-5 SEC) have gone far beyond their preseason expectations after initially being projected to finish dead last in the SEC East. Multiple media outlets have already recognized Missouri as the most improved team in the country. Their résumé includes series wins over Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Missouri's consistency throughout the season has carried this team because the batting statistics are not eye popping. In fact, they rank behind Alabama in every major batting category. The Tigers are 12th in the SEC in team batting average (.256), last in on base percentage (.341), and 12th in hits (305). Center fielder Jake Ring leads the team in hits (41) and doubles (12) while batting .293. Shortstop Ryan Howard is not far behind with 37 hits, 9 doubles, and a team leading 26 RBIs.
Facing off against Missouri's lineup will be Alabama's newly adjusted starting rotation. Head coach Mitch Gaspard named freshman RHP Jake Walters (3-1, 1.75 ERA, 33 SO, 13 BB) the starting pitcher for Saturday's game in place of RHP Will Carter. Walters has had tremendous success as a starter in midweek games and has also contributed in relief. LHP Taylor Guilbeau (2-2, 3.11 ERA, 54 SO, 31 BB) and RHP Geoffrey Bramblett (5-1, 3.86 ERA, 25 SO, 26 BB) will remain in their usual spots in the starting rotation.
On the mound for Missouri will be RHP Reggie McClain, RHP Tanner Houck, and RHP Peter Fairbanks. McClain leads the team in strikeouts (55) but has losses in his last two starts. Houck is a freshman phenom who is 6-1 on the season with a 2.92 ERA. He has 50 strikeouts to just seven walks. Fairbanks rounds out the starting rotation as the most consistent pitcher. Fairbanks has a 2.17 ERA and has allowed just 43 hits across 49.2 innings.
The Tigers' starting three will be challenged by an Alabama lineup that appears to have finally found its rhythm. The Tide currently has five players batting over .300. Mikey White's .372 batting average has unseated Casey Hughston as the Crimson Tide's batting leader, but Hughston still leads the team in hits (51) and RBIs (27). Freshman Cody Henry has the hottest bat right now as he is hitting .608 (17-25) over his last eight games including seven RBIs and five runs scored.
Alabama and Missouri have only met three times prior to this weekend's series in Columbia. The Crimson Tide is 2-1 against the Tigers in those three meetings. Friday's game is scheduled to begin at 6:00 pm CT. Saturday's game will begin at 7:00 pm CT. The two teams will round out the series at 12:00 pm CT on Sunday afternoon.