COLUMN: Charley Sullivan’s smile is still as wide as it was when he was at Oxford High School helping lead the Chargers to wins on the baseball diamond. Sullivan is now smiling wearing the crimson and white of Alabama as the team’s No. 1 pitcher on the weekend. There is a lot of prestige involved with being the Friday night starter at a Division I school, especially in the Southeastern Conference where baseball is more important than anywhere else in the country.
Earning the right to start the first game of the three-game series signifies tremendous skill, a high level of achievement on the part of the pitcher and tremendous trust on the part of the coach simply because that first game almost always sets the tone for how things play out the rest of the weekend. Luckily for the Crimson Tide, Sullivan has the skills to sit batters down, he has the drive to be even better than he has been this year and coach Mitch Gaspard can trust him to deliver a solid effort each week in the attempt to help the Tide earn a win and more as the weekend progresses.
Sullivan, who got his first opportunity to start against his hometown team, Ole Miss, this past Friday and has been very solid so far for the Tide. He has made six starts this season, logged 35.1 innings of work and is 2-2 with a 3.57 ERA.
Sullivan has 21 strikeouts against just nine walks, two numbers that back up why Sullivan is starting on Friday as much as any.
“Coach Gaspard’s thing is throwing strikes with every pitch and so far I’ve been consistently throwing a lot of strikes and kept the walks to a minimum,” said Sullivan, who earned his first SEC weekend start against Arkansas on the road March 16. “I feel like I’ve had some quality starts. I went eight innings against East Carolina. We were going with a left-right-left combination to start the year and I was in the middle. I don’t really know why the change (in rotation) but I’m happy about it.”
Sullivan’s first season at Alabama was in 2011, a year after shining at Northwest Mississippi Community College. Sullivan thought he would be in Senatobia two seasons when he first left OHS, but the unexpected chance to pitch for the Crimson Tide was too much to turn down.
“Coming here I didn’t really know what to expect. I wanted to fit in wherever my place was. I wanted to give to the team whatever I could to help. Last year I helped the team out of the bullpen and this year I knew I had a chance to be one of the main three guys on the weekend,” Sullivan said. “I didn’t know how it really was going to work out but when I finally got that word that I was going to be the Friday night starter, it’s pretty special to me. I’m very happy with where I am right now.”
Against Ole Miss this past Friday, Sullivan logged six innings and finished with three strikeouts against two walks. He gave up seven hits and left with the game tied 4-4 which meant he wasn’t going to factor into the final decision from a win-loss standpoint.
“I wasn’t as sharp as I have been. My breaking balls were better than they have been but my fastball was not as good. I left some pitches up,” said Sullivan, who had three scoreless innings against the Rebels. “The two-out triple hurt me but overall I feel like I’m getting better. My breaking pitches are sharper. My changeup is a really good pitch and when I put it all together, I think it can be really special.”
There have been times when Sullivan reflects on his voyage from Oxford to Tuscaloosa, Ala., and his reflections always seem to keep him grounded moving forward.
“Coaches always talk about this game will humble you. You can’t get too big-headed, you can be confident but not overconfident. I think about it everyday how far I’ve come and from my senior year in high school and not really pitching because of the elbow problems,” Sullivan said. “Going to Northwest and finally getting healthy again and then to have the opportunity to come here. I think it about it every day how far I come.” (March 27, 2012, Page 11)