By (Cody Estremera)

Alabama’s pitching has been the focus since coach Brad Bohannon took over in June. So far, the staff has made tremendous strides from last year.

At this point in the season last year, Alabama walked nine batters, while throwing six wild pitches and hit a batter. This year, its allowed only five walks, two wild pitches and hasn’t hit a batter yet.

“That’s [throwing a lot of stikes] been a constant theme of this group since day one, just ‘hey let’s keep this simple and make the other team earn everything they get,’” Bohannon said. “We worked so hard on team defense… If you make the other team string together five or six hits, that’s hard to do.”

The returns of right-handed pitcher Brock Love and Garret Rukes were huge for the pitching staff. Rukes, a freshman left-handed pitcher, started the shutout win against Middle Tennessee. He went two innings, allowing just one hit and struck put a two.

Love followed him, also throwing two innings and struck out a pair of Blue Raiders’ batters, while allowing two hits.

“These guys deserve to be successful,” Bohannon said. “Of all the guys I’ve seen have injuries in the course of my career, they’ve been so diligent in their work ethic to follow their rehab plans. Whether it’s Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, you name it.”

Both pitchers underwent Tommy John Surgery last season. Love’s was on March 24, while Rukes had his 11 days later on April 4.

“I guess it was a little bit of a blessing having that guy right next to you, doing the same thing,” Love said.

Both pitchers were on a pitch count for their first game back in over 10 months. Rukes threw 27 pitches, 18 of which were strikes, while Love threw 32 [24 strikes].

“Its hard [to be conservative] when these guys are talented,” Bohannon said. “They go out there and pitch well in scrimmages, and they tell you they feel good. It’s hard to pull back the reigns, but every decision we make for these guys, just like we’d do for any of our players, we’re going to do what’s in their best interest in the long haul.”

Alabama takes on Washington State for its second weekend series on the year. This is the second time the teams have matched up in program history. The only other time came in the 1950 College World Series, where Washington State won 9-1.

“We’re excited to play a Pac opponent,” Bohannon said. “They’re pretty left-hand dominant on the mound, so there’s a good chance we’ll see three left handed starters which will be a good challenge for us. They’ll be a talented group.”

Junior Sam Finnerty starts the first game on Friday.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports