One freshman held Northeastern scoreless through four innings. Another hit two home runs, neither leaving Sewell-Thomas Stadium by a small margin.
With that, Alabama baseball’s highly-touted freshman class announced itself on opening day, and did so in winning fashion.
Connor Prielipp became the first freshman starting pitcher to pitch and win on opening day at UA, and Owen Diodati’s home runs busted open the offense in UA’s 10-0 win over Northeastern.
“Dio and Connor are two guys that have really shown well over the six months they’ve been here, guys we’ve had high expectations for,” UA coach Brad Bohannon said. “Certainly not surprised. With that being said, we have 55 more regular season games and there will be plenty of ups and downs for them individually and for us as a team, but they’re certainly the right guys.”
Prielipp experienced those ups and downs in his first start. Three of the four leadoff hitters he faced reached base, but he struck out the next batter in each of those three instances.
The fourth inning was his biggest struggling point, when three walks gave Northeastern the bases loaded with one out. Bohannon pointed to the three-run bottom of the third that preceded it as a long offensive inning that disrupted his rhythm, something he thinks can be a struggle for all pitchers, but especially young pitchers like Prielipp.
Pitching coach Jason Jackson paid Prielipp a visit after third walk. Prielipp then forced a strikeout and a groundout in seven pitches, ending the offensive threat quicker than it was established.
“I think I just sped myself up, I needed to slow down a little bit,” Prielipp said. “That meeting really helped, helped me calm down. I was getting a little too excited, overwhelmed. I was able to buckle down and throw strikes.”
Bohannon added, “The other issue: we had the batteries in the joystick, we lost a little juice there, so we replaced the batteries in the joystick.”
Prielipp (1-0) allowed just one hit and one walk before that fourth inning, ultimately covering the four innings with seven strikeouts in 68 pitches. Tyler Ras followed with three innings of one-hit, two-walk relief with two strikeouts in 47 pitches. A scoreless eighth inning from Landon Green and scoreless ninth from Dylan Smith closed the game.
Prielipp said of his start: “I think I’m ready and I hope I start every Friday night from now on.”
Diodati’s statistics did not suffer for his opening day growing pains.
“I’m not gonna lie, my first at-bat I was pretty nervous,” he said. “You see a couple of pitches and pitch by pitch it gets a little easier. Once that first step was under my belt, I kind of calmed down a little bit going into the second one.”
The first at-bat, supposedly stunted by nerves, was a leadoff walk, which started down 0-2 and included a 3-2 foul ball. The next at-bat was the first of his two home runs, the more emphatic one, when Northeastern’s David Stiehl left a curveball a little too high.
“The student turnout was just outstanding and it was awesome for Dio to hit them a couple of souvenirs out there,” Bohannon said.
Diodati was not the only freshman to produce at the plate. Third baseman Zane Denton had a RBI single in the third in the at-bat preceding Diodati’s first home run; Peyton Wilson added a pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the seventh, and Jim Jarvis had a single and a walk as the starting second baseman. Jackson Tate — not a freshman, but making his UA debut out of Lawson State Community College — contributed a pinch-hit RBI single.
Bohannon views the depth of the lineup as a strength, when he can use five substitutes in a game knowing some of them would be everyday starters at other schools. He guessed some of those subs — outfielder Walker McCleney, Tate, Wilson, infielder William Hamiter and Austin — will be in the starting lineup later in the series.
The series concludes with a noon game on Saturday and a 1 p.m. game on Sunday.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or email@example.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson