The first practice and the first press conference for new University of Alabama baseball coach Greg Goff have come and gone. Now it’s time for the first pitch.
Goff and the Alabama baseball team open their season on Friday night against Presbyterian College at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The Crimson Tide play a three-game series against the Blue Hose over the weekend, part of 21 straight home games to start the 2017 season.
“I’m ready. I know our players are,” Goff said. “I told our players, my philosophy is that I’d rather a team that is prepared but a little tired than a team that’s fresh, but not prepared. We’re going to continue to work hard the next few days.”
The team was working on situational drills earlier this week, bringing batters to the plate with runners on base to simulate in-game pressure. Goff has brought in a new system on offense designed to be more aggressive on the bases to discomfort pitchers and defenses.
Alabama returns four regular starters from the 2015 lineup and two more players who saw significant action. But the addition of new recruits and a new coaching staff opened up competition, and even some returning starters might not have the same role this season.
“It’s kind of repetitive playing the same team every day with us (in practice),” junior college transfer Hunter Alexander said. “We’re just excited to get out there and play somebody with a different color on.”
The pitching staff returns two holdovers from last year’s weekend rotation. Senior Nick Eicholtz will pitch on Friday night, with junior Jake Walters on Saturday. Sophomore Dylan Duarte won the job as the Sunday starter, but all three will be on a pitch count as they stretch out their limit early this year. Sophomore Brock Love, expected to be the midweek starter, may also get some work in relief this weekend.
“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Duarte said. “I’ve kind of been working toward a starting position since last year. I was out of the pen last year, but I’m excited to get the opportunity this year and take full advantage of it.”
Presbyterian isn’t a baseball power but won’t be a pushover. It returns two weekend starters from 2016 and six regulars from its lineup.
Alabama will have plenty of time to get its bearings early this year, with five straight weekends at home to begin the season. The Crimson Tide won’t play a true road game until March 21 at UAB, and its first major road test will be a trip to South Carolina from March 24-26. UA and Auburn were picked to finish tied for last in the SEC West in a preseason poll of the league coaches.
“I hope our guys will play with that chip on their shoulder and be out there to prove all the coaches that voted us last (wrong),” Goff said. “That’s what I love about it. That’s why I came here. You see my career, I’ve never walked into a place where there were 40-plus wins on the table. I love that. I love being the underdog. I love our players playing with that chip on their shoulder. Just more motivation for us.”
Goff has had plenty of time to practice with his players, but is still waiting to learn how they’ll perform when the lights come on. Friday night is the first time he’ll be able to see that.
“I hope after the first weekend, on Monday, that we’re surprised by a lot and not disappointed by any,” Goff said. “Until the umpires get out there and the lights get on and there are 6,000 people in the stands, that’s what it takes for our players to get comfortable. We tell them that all the time, that you have to get comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Now is the opportunity to go out and do that.”