Alabama baseball drops season opener

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Crimson Tide fans at Sewell-Thomas Stadium a caught glimpse of the future of Alabama baseball on Friday night in the season opener against Florida Atlantic. For coach Mitch Gaspard’s sake, he better hope it’s not the entire picture of what’s to come.

Alabama muscled just four hits and allowed three unearned runs in a 5-2 loss to FAU. UA committed two errors, squandering two strong outings from Tide pitchers.

Freshman starting pitcher Taylor Guilbeau took the loss despite throwing 5 strong innings, allowing 3 hits and 1 earned run. The tall lefty showed off a good fastball and a deceptive changeup on his way to 4 strikeouts. In two bases loaded situations, he surrendered just one run.

Gaspard said he was pleased with his outing and how he was capable of working out of jams.

“That’s one reason why he got the ball tonight,” Gaspard said. “He’s a really good competitor and he’s got a very good mentality on the mound. He showed some of that tonight.”

The wheels came off in the top of the sixth inning for Alabama. Guilbeau was lifted after reaching his pitch count limit, and Trey Pilkington came on in relief. Pilkington struck out the first batter he faced but then gave up starting with back-to-back singles. Pilkington took care of the next batter but a throwing error by third baseman A.J. Cole allowed two runs to cross the plate. Another run scored when Mike Spano hit a single off the right field wall.

Alabama was able to come back in the following inning and load the bases with no outs. But a 6-4-3 double play and a strikeout killed the rally with just two runs plated -- one by way of a pass ball.

FAU starting pitcher Ryan Garton finished with 1 earned run in 6 innings pitched. He gave up just 3 hits.

Gaspard said after the game that he wasn’t worried about his offense, holding to the belief that the batting order will be his team’s strength in 2012.

“Offensively, we’ll find that rhythm,” Gaspard said. “I know this will be a good offensive team. Tonight was one of those tough nights. ... We never got into the flow.”

Jake Hubbard, Jason Zylstra and Ian Gardeck pitched the final three innings, allowing only one hit in the process. Hubbard, a freshman, pitched well, but it was the junior college transfer that stole the show.

Gardeck, who spent last year at Angelina College in Illinois, showed off his mid- to upper-90s fastball against FAU. He struck out the side in the ninth inning, using primarily the heater.

“He was pretty good tonight,” Gaspard said of Gardeck, flashing an ear-to-ear grin. “If we can get that out of Gardeck, we’re going to be fine in the back of the game. I don’t know what his velocity was but it was hard.”

Brett Booth said catching Gardeck is a blast, describing his fastball as “exploding out of his hand.” While the crowd stood in a shocked appreciation of Gardeck’s 3-strikeout performance, Booth said he was anything but surprised.

“We’re probably going to see a lot of that this year,” Booth said.

Alabama will host the middle game of the three-game series on Saturday at 10 a.m. CT. Junior Charley Sullivan will start for the Tide.