BIRMINGHAM — Alabama baseball’s true test begins now.
UA has spent the first three weeks of the season building up confidence, going 16-1 against a non-conference schedule and scoring double-digit runs in nine of those 17 games. The most recent game in that run, Tuesday’s 13-7 win over UAB at Regions Field, was the final precursor to its real proving ground: the Southeastern Conference schedule.
“This group doesn’t lack confidence,” UA coach Brad Bohannon said. “They really believe in themselves, I believe in them. I’m freaking jacked for this weekend, I can’t wait for the next 10 weekends. I think the whole key is how we respond when we get punched in the mouth, because we really haven’t had that happen and I know it will.
“The guys are pretty jacked for the weekend and so am I.”
Games like Tuesday’s are why the Crimson Tide is confident going into the league play schedule that has humbled it in recent seasons. The everyday starters delivered their typical production: Brett Auerbach went 1-for-1 and stole three bases, Owen Diodati had two hits and Sam Praytor — on the same day he was named to the Buster Posey Award watch list for the nation’s best catcher — hit his sixth home runs of the season, reestablishing himself in the team lead.
UA substituted four position players into the game and three of them got a hit: third baseman Zane Denton, right fielder Jackson Tate and second baseman Myles Austin.
On the mound, the Tide hoped to use roughly six pitchers and managed to use seven. Tyler Ras had a one-inning start, Bohannon said to mostly ensure he was sharp after facing just two batters in the Lipscomb series. Garret Rukes was the winning pitcher (2-0) for his three shutout innings with one hit allowed.
“Luckily we got out to a 10-0 lead so we were able to pitch some guys that haven’t gotten a lot of opportunity,” Bohannon said. “Not everybody was sharp, it was certainly a sloppy day, but glad to come out with a win.”
Much of the lack of precision Bohannon mentioned can be drawn back to two errors, which allowed four of UAB’s seven runs to be unearned. The Blazers (7-9) scored four of those seven runs in the eighth inning, once UA had all 13 of its runs on the board.
UA’s first test in SEC play is a three-game series against Missouri, starting 6 p.m. Friday, before a brutal introduction to the league: a series at Arkansas and a home stint with Auburn, both teams fixtures in recent top 25 rankings.
Previous teams had reason to look at the SEC schedule with apprehension, each of them failing to reach the 10-win mark in a 30-game schedule. This one has not developed that intimidation.
“I think we’re in a really good spot. We’re going to take it to Missouri this weekend, we’re going to give them all we got,” Auerbach said. “I’m looking forward to it and so are we.
“There’s a different mindset in that locker room this year.”