UA baseball still deciding on early positions before SEC play

Some of the early position battles for the University of Alabama baseball team seem to be winding down, but another one picked up the pace this weekend.

Freshman outfielder Logan Carey started three games this week, including his first career start in center on Sunday. He and sophomore Gene Wood, who has 10 starts in 11 games this season, are Greg Goff’s strongest candidates to play centerfield this season.

“You get a pretty similar player with both of them,” sophomore right fielder Chandler Taylor said. “Both of them swing the bat with the left side, pretty consistent, line drive-type, handle the bat guys. They can bunt. I think his ideal centerfielder right now would be somebody who can hit in the two hole and somebody who can handle a bat for the guys that are coming up behind them.”

Carey missed the start of the season with an injury and made his first start against Jacksonville State on Tuesday. He’s 3-11 (.273) so far this year. Wood is 7-33 (.212) with three walks.

There could be an opportunity to play them both. Alabama has used sophomores Keith Holcombe and Sam Finnerty in left field, but Carey started two games there last week. Holcombe’s availability may change when the linebacker has to split his time with spring football practice later this month. Finnerty is also a relief pitcher and may not be used in the field every day.

Carey batted second in his two starts this weekend. Wood has bounced up and down the lineup. Where either ends up should start to be clearer after the next week-and-a-half.

“I think it’s going to take us some time to figure that out, who’s going to be what,” Goff said. “Do we play the lefties against the left-handed pitching? Stuff like that. My goal is after these next seven or eight games we have before we start conference play that we get a better feel for some of that.”

Tide facing five games in next six days

UA will play five games this week for the first time this season, and has a four-game weekend series against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The extra game will alter the pitching schedule for the week.

Sophomore righty Brock Love is scheduled to start on Tuesday against Troy, though there’s rain in the forecast for Tuesday afternoon and evening. The plan for the weekend is to start freshman lefty Garret Rukes on Thursday, junior righty Jake Walters on Friday and sophomore lefty Dylan Duarte on Saturday. Sunday’s starter has not been determined.

Senior Nick Eicholtz, Alabama’s usual starter on Friday nights, will get the weekend off. He’s 1-0 with a 5.14 ERA in three starts. He’s allowed three runs in each of his first three starts and hasn’t pitched more than five innings.

“We feel like if we can give Nick some time off and let him recover a little bit,” Goff said. “His last outing wasn’t very good. His velocity has gone down a little bit. He feels fine, but I think for the long run, since this is not a conference weekend, we can give him a chance to get his feet back under him and get ready for the Missouri weekend series.”


Tide shifts mentality to offense in prep for tournament

University of Alabama men’s basketball head coach Avery Johnson reiterated his contention that there could be an “upset winner” at this year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament, which begins in Nashville on Wednesday.

“I think it’s possible,” Johnson said on the SEC’s pre-tournament teleconference. “We have great respect for the teams at the top of our conference, teams like Kentucky and Florida. But nobody went through our league and finished 34-0, so it is possible.”

Kentucky is the even-money favorite to win the event, according to the Westgate Sports Book in Las Vegas. Alabama is rated a 50-1 shot by the same group. The Crimson Tide has not won an SEC Tournament title since 1991 and has not reached the championship game since 2002 when it lost to Mississippi State in Atlanta. The last semifinal appearance for UA was in 2013.

Alabama opens play on Thursday afternoon against either Mississippi State or LSU.

“We’ve had some hard-fought games against both of those teams,” Johnson said. “LSU just had a big win over Tennessee this week, and Mississippi State is getting better as a young team under Coach (Ben) Howland.

Alabama is coming off a 59-54 loss at Tennessee on Saturday.

“We just have to do a good job of taking care of the ball, rebounding the ball and becoming a better balanced team, which we have been searching for all year,” Johnson said. “We have put together some good halves. But we haven’t put together as many complete games as I’ve wanted to.

“We’ve already hit the reset button. We know we’re capable. But we’ve got to understand the cycles of the game. Sometimes, if we have had three straight trips where we haven’t scored, we need to be a little more patient.

“We feel like we are as competitive as any team in our conference on the defensive end but (we) have to be more consistent on the offensive end.”

— Cecil Hurt


Tide makes first quarterfinal appearance in 18 years

There can be an argument made as to why the previous week for Alabama women’s basketball was the best in coach Kristy Curry’s ongoing tenure at Alabama. But without opening all of the record books, in the moment it was still enough to turn heads around the Southeastern Conference.

Alabama defeated Vanderbilt (77-57) and Tennessee (72-64) in the first two rounds of the SEC Tournament to make an appearance in the quarterfinals for the first time since 1999. The sneaky Crimson Tide was finally ousted in that round by the No. 4 seed Kentucky (65-55), but at that point it had still made plenty of noise.

Along the way Alabama played some of its best offensive basketball this season. UA’s 20-point dismantling of Vanderbilt in the opening round had four players score in double figures, including 21 points from sophomore guard Shaquera Wade.

But where Alabama left its mark, was with a third-straight victory over Tennessee. It was an uphill battle for most of the first half for the Crimson Tide, and scoring only seven points in the second quarter put UA in 29-22 halftime hole. In the end it wasn’t enough for the Lady Volunteers to hold off a 29-point scoring onslaught by the Crimson Tide in the fourth quarter.

Five players scored in double figures against Tennessee, including Alabama’s newest record-holder in single-season blocks, Ashley Knight. Knight had 10 points and 11 rebounds, while blocking a career-high six shots.

The 2017 SEC Tournament was home to career milestones for UA’s Hannah Cook and Ashley Williams. The two juniors became the 25th and 26th members of Alabama women’s basketball’s 1000-point club.

The next step for the Crimson Tide will come on March 13, when the Women’s National Invitation Tournament will give bids.

— Drew Hill


Alabama pitching continues to bring in awards

Alabama’s Alexis Osorio garnered her second weekly SEC Pitcher of the Week honor after going 3-0 with 38 strikeouts in 15 innings with no runs allowed last week. She shared the honors with Florida’s Delanie Gourley.

The junior right-hander was MVP of the Crimson Classic. She threw four innings against UAB last week, striking out nine. On Friday she combined with Madi Moore on a no-hitter, striking out 11 batters in four innings. The next day, she struck out 18 in a one-hit victory over Stanford.

Moore missed Sunday’s game against Jacksonville after sustaining a concussion the day before on a collision at the plate.

“She was OK like right after, and then like an hour after it hit her,” coach Patrick Murphy said. “They’ve got to do the test every day.”

The sophomore left-hander from Winfield pitched four no-hit innings in the Crimson Classic before the injury.

Moore is 3-1 with a 4.67 earned-run average. Murphy is hopeful she can get back in the circle this week.

“It might be Wednesday but I don’t know, you just never know with that kind of injury,” he said.

Ninth-ranked Alabama hosts Loyola-Chicago on Tuesday at 6 p.m. and Valparaiso on Wednesday at the same time. Conference play starts this weekend with a three-game home series against Arkansas.

Alabama (19-2) has won 12 games in a row.

— Tommy Deas


Leadoff senior unable to perform during senior night

Last Thursday, University of Alabama gymnast Keely McNeer was in a car accident and broke her fifth metacarpal in her hand. The senior shares the team lead for most competitive routines this season and is the Crimson Tide’s leadoff on the vault, uneven bars and balance beam.

UA head coach Dana Duckworth said McNeer will be in a soft cast for two weeks before getting an X-ray. They won’t make a return decision until after that.

“She won’t be competing at senior night, and she’s very, very unhappy,” Duckworth said Monday. “But I told her it’s not about senior night. It’s about celebrating the seniors. It’s not necessarily about the seniors having to compete.

“We have to look at the long term, what’s the best interest of the team and Keely.”

Friday’s meet against Iowa State is Alabama’s last showdown in Coleman Coliseum. Six UA seniors will be recognized: Katie Bailey, Amanda Jetter, Mary Lillian Sanders, Mackenzie Valentin, Aja Sims and McNeer.

Since McNeer couldn’t compete at Georgia over the weekend, freshman Wynter Childers, sophomore Abby Armbrecht and Sims filled the voids. Childers scored 9.825 on the vault. Armbrecht earned a 9.875 on the beam. Sims had a 9.85 on the bars.

“It just shows that testing our depth earlier in the season and then being allowed to use it has helped our team be successful,” Duckworth said.

Staying sixth

Despite increasing its regional qualifying score by 0.2, Alabama remains No. 6 in the nation. Its RQS is now a 197.825, which, for the first time this season, is comprised of all 197-plus scores.

— Terrin Waack