Super Regionals preview: Here’s what Bama is up against this weekend
By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Peyton Davis
TUSCALOOSA – For the first time since 2010, the University of Alabama baseball team is appearing in the Super Regional Round of the NCAA Tournament.
It’s happening after an undefeated weekend in Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The Tide has a tall task ahead in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, facing off against No. 1-ranked Wake Forest University.
The possibility of a Super Regional appearance seemed an impossibility weeks ago, but the Tide goes into the round riding significant momentum after a special weekend in Tuscaloosa.
Bama’s first two games came down to clutch situational baseball and come-from-behind ninth innings for the Tide to win.
Nevertheless, the Deacons will be a tall task for Alabama, as it’s proven to be one of if not the most talented team in the entire country with an overall record of 50-10. Wake Forest steamrolled its way through the regional round, outscoring opponents a combined 48-7 in three games over the weekend.
Its going to take a heroic effort from Bama head coach Jason Jackson’s squad, as here’s a look at what makes Wake Forest so special.
Undoubtedly the most impressive part of the Demon Deacons as a whole is its weekend rotation, headlined by elite MLB Draft prospect Rhett Lowder. If it wasn’t for the generational talent of LSU’s Paul Skenes, Lowder would be the consensus top pitcher in the nation, as he has been wire-to-wire dominant this year.
The junior is second in the country with an ERA of 1.77 and sixth in strikeouts with 125 in 101.2 innings pitched. Lowder is 6 feet 2 inches, 200 pounds with a three pitch mix of fastball-slider-changeup with plus command, only issuing 20 walks in over 100 innings.
His fastball sits in the mid-90s with plus sink that batters rarely square up, but his changeup is his best pitch sitting in the 84-87 range – generating the highest whiff rate of his arsenal. This combination of command and easy delivery has made him a consensus top 10-15 prospect in next month’s MLB Draft.
Perhaps most intimidating for the Tide, Wake is 16-0 when Lowder starts, and he sports an individual record of 14-0, going five or more innings in all but one start. The weekend rotation for the Deacons is rounded out by Josh Hartle, Seth Keener and Sean Sullivan, who all have ERAs under 2.61 with a combined record of 22-5, making them the top rotation in the nation.
The Tide also sports a strong rotation, headlined by Jacob McNairy, Luke Holman and Garrett McMillian, but the midseason loss of left-hander Grayson Hitt will more than likely be felt more now.
The Deacons’ offense is nothing to gloss over, either, especially at the top headlined by another elite MLB prospect in first baseman Nick Kurtz.
The Deacons are fifth in the country in runs per game with 9.3, and they can get hot in a hurry. The team’s three hole hitter in the sophomore Kurtz is the team’s main star and consensus top hitter in the 2024 draft class.
The 6-foot 5-inch lefty hit .384 this year with 23 home runs and 67 RBI, however the deeper numbers are even more impressive. He slashed .384/.552/.843 this year, good for third in the country with a 1.395 OPS, and only striking out only 40 times in 242 plate appearances.
Following Kurtz in the cleanup spot is 6-4, 225-pound junior third baseman Brock Wilken, who has enjoyed almost as good of a season as Kurtz batting .353 with 27 home runs and 77 RBI.
The three and four spot of their lineup generates most of their production with 43% of their teams home runs and almost a third of the teams total RBIs between the two of them. Still, the lineup is very strong from top to bottom, as seven of their nine every day starters bat over .300.
Wake Forest’s home field, David F. Couch Ballpark, is hitter friendly, and the Tide finished the year fourth in the SEC in runs. That must continue for Alabama to have any chance of advancing to Omaha for the first time this century.
Overall, Alabama looks to use its experience as the nation’s second ranked strength of record standing to their advantage to upset the championship favorites at their home.
As impressive as Wake Forest has been all year, the ACC is not at the level of the SEC, and the Tide is as dangerous as any of the teams remaining in the field of 16.
Matching the nation’s top pitching staff and one of the top offenses as well is a tall task for the Tide, but there is no question that in players like Drew Williamson, Andrew Pickney, Tommy Siedl and Jim Jarvis’ final season with the program, they will not go down easy.
Alabama is as battle tested as any team in the country, managing to host a regional going through the gauntlet SEC along with a midseason coaching scandal and change. In any case, this is the most exciting time to be an Alabama baseball fan in over a decade maybe even this entire century, and they will look to keep the magic going next weekend from Winston-Salem and make its first College World Series since 1999.