Tide left soul-searching

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The Florida Atlantic Owls humming around the Joe this weekend bore a striking resemblance to a flock of Chicken Littles, predicting the downfall of Alabama baseball.

But take a deep breath. It isn’t that bad.

Florida Atlantic sweeping the Crimson Tide in a three-game series to start the year isn’t totally unheard of. It’s just been a while.

It’s been 60 years since something like that has happened at Alabama. In 1952, the Tide started out 0-3, finishing the season two games above .500. (That last bit is what you’d call the “bright side” of things.)

But losing a three-game series at home to start the year? That has never occurred in Alabama history.

“Top to bottom, a very disappointing weekend, frustrating weekend,” said Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard. “Obviously we didn’t foresee this coming.”

The Tide never held a lead in the series against FAU, and they played like it, lacking confidence from the opening game. The bats were silent, the gloves had holes, and the pitching was erratic at best.

Alabama played its poorest brand of baseball in quite some time against the Owls. The offense that was billed as a strength in 2012, was anything but, mustering just eight runs of support. The defense that committed 64 errors in 63 games last year, booted or threw away six balls against FAU, surrendering six unearned runs. The bullpen that was supposed to carry an inexperienced starting rotation, allowed 14 earned runs in 15 innings of work.

All in all, a failure in almost every facet of the game.

Gaspard said after Sunday’s 9-4 loss that some of his players are struggling to deal with the disappointment.

“It’s one of those situations that we’re so mental right now,” Gaspard said. “We have a lot of guys that are really searching right now and kind of in their own dome, thinking the end of the world is coming.”

Taylor Dugas, the team’s leader after three years starting in center field, was dejected after Sunday’s loss but refused to wave any white flag.

“I don’t think anybody saw this coming,” Dugas said. “We’re faced with a little bit of adversity here.

“Nobody likes it. Everybody’s kind of ticked off but it is what it is. We can’t dwell on it.”

Gaspard said that failure is often a part of the game. He refused to let a 55-game season be defined by the outcome of a weekend series with no real implications.

“It is baseball,” Gaspard said plainly. “This is one of those games that you can look as poorly as we did for a weekend and then all of the sudden a win and a big hit get you going in the right direction.

“I’ve seen this team through the fall and early spring. I still believe in this team. These three games aren’t going to change that.”

The one major concern heading into the start of the season for Alabama is that it may have played some of the best baseball against FAU. The starting pitching, led by two freshmen starters, threw well. Taylor Guilbeau opened the series by allowing just one earned run in five innings, striking out four. Justin Kamplain showed flashes of talent in Sunday’s game as well, striking out the first two batters he faced and four total in three innings of work.

Ian Gardeck, the junior college transfer who will close for the Tide, was never given the chance to shut the door in the ninth, but wowed the crowd with his upper 90s fastball. The flame-throwing righty allowed just one hit in two innings, striking out three.

He wasn’t the only newcomer to fare well in his first games wearing crimson. Kenny Roberts, another junior college transfer from Mississippi, started all three games at second base and hit .417 (5 for 12) with 4 RBIs and a home run. But his success came with a dose of reality. Roberts summed up the feelings of most on his new team, trying to put the weekend behind them and focusing on getting better.

“It was a tough weekend,” Roberts said. “It’s never a good thing to get swept. We just have to come back out tomorrow and practice hard.”

Even the excitement of his three-run homer on Sunday was tempered by the team’s slow start.

“At the end of the day I’m still upset we lost and got swept,” Roberts said. “For that moment I had a feeling we were going to pull through and the home run kind of excited me. I felt we would pull through but we came up short.”