TUSCALOOSA — An early exit from the SEC tournament may not have been all bad for Alabama baseball.
It gave the Crimson Tide a chance to rest some of its key players while also allowing the team to get back to what helped it be successful early on during the season. Alabama won 28 of its first 39 games before closing by losing 11 of 17, including a first-round SEC tournament defeat to Kentucky on May 20.
“(We’re) just trying to get back to the mentality we had earlier in the season,” Alabama junior pitcher Spencer Turnbull said. “Being tough, blue collar. Just getting after it every day. Just working really hard and being mentally tough when we go out there. Ready for Kennesaw State this weekend.”
Alabama (34-22) earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and the No. 2 seed at the Tallahassee Regional. The Tide opens play against Kennesaw State on Friday at 11 a.m. from Mike Martin Field at Dick Howser Stadium. It’ll be the first matchup between the two teams in baseball, and ESPN3 will televise the game online.
“We worked extremely hard the last week,” Tide coach Mitch Gaspard said. “We had three days of two-a-days. It was back to having a lot of focus and attention to detail, some things we needed to clean up. We tried to structure practice in a way that was a little more blue collar and a get after it type mentality.
“All the teams I’ve ever had who work extremely hard leading up to games and tournaments, there’s a sense of accomplishment when you have those types of practices. We’ve done a good job with that and now it needs to translate into the ball games starting on Friday.”
Joining Alabama in the four-team, double-elimination tournament is No. 1-seeded Florida State (43-15), No. 3-seeded Kennesaw State (37-21) and No. 4-seeded Georgia Southern (39-21). The Seminoles are the No. 5 national seed in this year’s tournament.
Alabama is 1-8 all-time against Florida State, after losing twice to the Seminoles in the 2011 Tallahassee Regional. The Tide is 13-6 all-time against Georgia Southern.
This will be Alabama’s third time playing at Florida State in four years, including last season when the Tide’s season came to a close after losing to Troy.
“I think it’s good that we’re going there,” senior first baseman Austen Smith said. “We have a few players on the team that went there last year and some from even three years ago that went there. It definitely helps to know your surroundings. Not to get used to anything. It helps us going back there after last year so we can right some wrongs from last year.”
Still, Smith said the team can learn a thing or two from last year struggles in the regional.
“That was a good experience for everybody, got everybody ready for this year,” Smith said. “Everyone knows what to expect. Butterflies are gone from last year. We have a more mature team and we’re ready to go.”
Sports Writer Marq Burnett: On Twitter @Marq_Burnett.