Outside the Lines: Southpaw wills his way into Tide rotation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 23, 2007

University of Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Jim Wells is looking over his roster today as he prepares for the start of the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament at Regions Park in Hoover.

As he skims over his list of pitchers, one guy pops out as a late-season threat to help his team return to an NCAA regional &045; Will Stroup. The former Oak Mountain lefty is one of Wells&8217; keys to the Tide&8217;s late-season success, as they have won eight of their last 13 games over the last four weeks.

&8220;He has given us quality innings and quality outings and put us in a position to win several key series down the stretch,&8221; Wells said.

That stretch began on April 29 during the first inning of game three against the University of South Carolina. Wells called for the former Birmingham-Southern reliever, turned Crimson Tider from the bullpin to relieve starter Austin Hyatt, who had just allowed six runs off five hits with only two outs to start the game.

Stroup allowed an RBI single, but managed a ground ball to get out of the inning. He went on to hold the Gamecocks at bay on the way to his first win, 11-10, for the Tide.

The win wrapped up the Tide&8217;s third SEC series victory of the season with three series left to play and their spot in the SEC Tournament on the line.

As Stroup loaded the bus for Gainesville, Fla. the following weekend he figured it was back to the pen for him, however he found out otherwise.

&8220;I had butterflies,&8221; Stroup said about first receiving the news that the mound was his for the Sunday start at Florida. He went seven innings, striking out six Gators, but left with a no-decision as Hyatt picked up the win in relief.

The following Sunday was his, as he took the mound at The Joe in Tuscaloosa against Arkansas. Nine innings and seven strikeouts later, his first complete game was in the bag, and so was his first win as a starter.

&8220;It was an awesome feeling,&8221; Stroup said via phone after workouts Monday. &8220;I never thought I&8217;d be able to go nine innings after throwing two at most (before South Carolina).&8221;

Now Stroup faces a new set of butterflies when he walks through the tunnel and into the dugout at Regions Park for this morning&8217;s first round SEC Tournament game against Arkansas.

After going to the tournament the past few years as a fan, now he will sit within the walls of the diamond awaiting his chance to stand on the rubber.

&8220;I always knew it was college ball, but it almost seemed like a step above all the rest,&8221; Stroup said of his past trips to the SEC Tournament. &8220;It&8217;s going to be awesome to come out, not as a fan, but as a player. I don&8217;t think it will sink in until we get there and I see the crowd though.&8221;

In that crowd he hopes he will get to see his grandmother, Nanny, who has yet to see him play in crimson and white, but has been listening to his recent appearances on the radio.

With Tommy Hunter getting the start against the Hogs today, Stroup is expected to see action Thursday or Friday