Alabama baseball suffered its third SEC sweep of the season last week against Vanderbilt. It may have felt like more of the same: Alabama was swept six times in conference play in 2017 and four times in 2018.
But the box score looks different. Alabama’s core group in 2017 and 2018 was many of the same veteran players that have mostly moved on. Against Vanderbilt, Alabama started two freshmen and a sophomore in the heart of its lineup in all three games. Outfielders T.J. Reeves and Tyler Gentry, along with first baseman Drew Williamson, are at the center of a new group of players.
“That was a tough thing about last year, you’re not winning enough and then you’re playing an older group,” coach Brad Bohannon said.
Seven of Alabama’s top eight hitters in 2018 were juniors and seniors. Reeves, Gentry and Williamson, along with injured sophomore catcher Sam Praytor, give Alabama a core group of position players to build around going forward.
Alabama vs. No. 9 LSU
Schedule: Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m., Sunday at 1 p.m.
Where: Sewell-Thomas Stadium
Records: Alabama 25-17 (4-14 SEC), LSU 27-15 (11-7 SEC)
Radio: 102.9 FM
There’s young talent on the mound, too. Three freshman pitchers – Tyler Ras, Chase Lee and Connor Shamblin – have all thrown at least 20 innings this season. Sophomore lefty Brock Guffey and freshmen Jacob McNairy and Dylan Smith are also pieces in the bullpen.
“After the year that happened before I was here, I wanted to be part of the comeback and the great story that is being written right now. I am looking forward to watching it play out,” Guffey said.
Gentry leads the team with eight homers and 30 RBIs in 42 games this season, often batting cleanup. Reeves was second in the lineup last weekend and has six home runs even though he didn’t open the season as a starter. Williamson, batting fifth recently, is second on the team with a .302 average and leads the team with a .440 on-base percentage.
Reeves and Williamson are roommates. Ras lives across the hall. The group is together often at practice, games and otherwise.
“I’m developing a lot more, I would say quicker than I expected to,” Reeves said. “Me and Drew, we’ve been playing a lot and spending a lot of time on the field and we’re developing at a faster and faster rate than we expected.”
There are still low points. Alabama enters its weekend series against LSU on a seven-game SEC losing streak. The program lost 10 straight SEC games at one point in 2018 and 13 straight in 2017. That’s the situation that Alabama’s freshmen and sophomores signed up for.
“It means a lot more to go into a program that is not already there,” Williamson said. “It means a lot more to you push it in a direction and you actually having a hand in making the program a better place; you’re not just another guy on his way through.”
Williamson hoped to become the starting first baseman as a freshman, but knew it would be a difficult job in the SEC. After LSU, Alabama closes the season with series at No. 25 Arkansas, home against No. 6 Texas A&M and on the road at No. 4 Georgia. He’s facing pitchers with greater velocity and more pitches than he’s ever seen before.
That could pay dividends down the road. The sooner it happens, the better for Bohannon and the rest of the program.
“I think there will be a point in time where I’ll look back and I’ll feel really good about the investment we’ve made in a bunch of new players,” Bohannon said. “I’ll be excited about that potential paying off in the future. Right now, I’m not too pleased about the last two weekends.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.