May 21, 2009
Danny P Smith -
HOOVER, Ala. -- University of Alabama baseball coach Jim Wells thought he got a good enough effort from pitchers Del Howell, Nathan Kilcrease, and Jimmy Nelson to pull out a win Wednesday night against South Carolina.
But Wells will need an even better effort today.
After losing to the Gamecocks 9-5 in 11 innings, the Crimson Tide (37-18) must right themselves less than 12 hours later to stay alive at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Ace starting pitcher Austin Hyatt (8-1, 2.96 ERA) will get the ball at 1:30 p.m. today when Alabama plays SEC regular season and No. 1 seed LSU.
"Hyatt will do his job and he has done it for 14 weeks," Wells said. "He will keep us in the game. Hyatt is the right guy to have on the mound."
Wells gave Hyatt an extra day of rest Wednesday after he worked 8 1/3 innings Thursday against Auburn.
Hyatt, the third Crimson Tide pitcher since 1986 to earn first-team All-SEC honors, is anxious to take the mound in an elimination game.
"I want the ball," Hyatt said. "We need to win to stay alive in this tournament. We played LSU a good series this year and we just look to build off that and try to win the game. I''m ready to go get them and go to work."
Hyatt leads the conference in ERA, opponents'' batting average (.208), innings (97 1/3), and walks (10). He ranks fifth nationally in fewest walks per nine innings (0.92) and had a 25-inning streak without a walk snapped May 1 at Mississippi State.
Hyatt calls himself "a strike thrower" who comes after hitters with a fastball and changeup.
That attitude has helped Hyatt have a good career (18-5, 3.72) at Alabama.
"I had high expectations," Hyatt said. "I probably didn''t foresee it turning out as well as it has, but I''m happy with the way it has gone, and I want it to continue to improve and win ballgames."
Alabama is 22-8 (a .733 winning percentage) in Hyatt''s 30 career starts.
Hyatt''s teammates admire what he has done this season.
"He''s the most consistent pitcher I''ve ever seen," said Kilcrease, a sophomore. "He''ll be pitching in the big leagues really soon. Austin really comes out and sets the tone for the series. He gives you seven to eight innings every start."
Whether he is on the mound or in the dugout, Hyatt looks to make a difference.
Against the Gamecocks, Kilcrease said Hyatt tried to encourage the other pitchers.
"He''s always up tempo in the dugout telling us to keep our heads up," Hyatt said. "He was telling me I pitched a good game. He''s uplifting and always has a positive attitude."
Alabama, which might not have Jake Smith, will need that mind-set today against LSU.
Smith, a third baseman-pitcher, took a nasty spill across the first base bag on the last out against South Carolina. He remained on the ground for several minutes until emergency personnel helped him off the field.
"He was in a lot of pain and I didn''t see it," said Wells, who was ejected by home plate umpire David Savage for arguing a non-hit-by-pitch call. "He increased his stride and guys get hurt when they do that. He had a lot of pain in (the shin area).
"We wanted to use him on the mound, but what happened to Jake is way more important than the other stuff. It would be a blow to us (if he isn''t able to play) because he is a two-way player."
Alabama could get thin in the bullpen if Hyatt gets into trouble today.
Kilcrease, who might not be available again after throwing five innings and 65 pitches Wednesday, said the bullpen has to keep find ways to do its job.
"Coach asks the bullpen to only give up one or two runs if you give up any and keep us in the ballgame and give us a chance to win," Kilcrease said. "Even in the loss, I think we basically did a good job of that."