Alabama split two games mid-week with Memphis to run their record to 9-8 heading in to Southeastern Conference play this weekend. After dropping The Capital City Classic to Auburn, and getting swept in three games by Louisville, you would have thought the Tide would come into the week with a since of urgency. However Tuesday's lackluster performance, a 6-0 loss to Memphis, was the squads worst performance of the season. The starting pitching was not good, the defense was not up to its usual excellence and the hitting was abysmal. Taylor Guilbeau started and lasted four innings, being pulled after hitting the first batter in the top of the fifth. Guilbeau surrendered three runs on five hits, walked and hit two batters and had one strikeout, adsorbing the loss. Keaton Haack pitched three innings, allowing no hits, but walking three and hitting one. One unearned run was scored. Freshman walk-on hard throwing, Mike Oczypok made his Crimson Tide debut, pitching the eighth and ninth innings. Oczypok gave up five hits and two runs, but was a little bit snake bit. Two hits were choppers that bounced over infielders heads and one was a blooper over second baseman Kyle Overstreet's head.
Brett Booth threw out two more runners stealing, and two men were thrown out at the plate to keep the margin as close as it was. Offensively the Tide could only muster four singles and one walk. Georgie Salem, Ben Moore, Ryan Blanchard and Booth had the only hits and Kenny Roberts the only walk.
After the game the coaching staff kept the players in the locker room for approximately two hours and attempted to get the players attention. When the coaches left the players remained behind for another hour and hashed things out for themselves. Senior leader Booth with help from veterans like Charley Sullivan lead the "come to Jesus meeting" as we call it in the south.
Weather it was the coaches words or the players words, or a combination of both, something worked on Wednesday. The team was noticeably more vocal from the dugout starting with batting practice and infield practice, and all through out the game. The pitching was sharp, the defense crisp, and the offense, all though collecting only six hits, was much better. For the first time all year 'Bama had a base runner on base in every inning, and put pressure on the Tigers with good at bats.
Uncharacteristically 'Bama jumped out to a three to nothing lead after one inning. After Roberts walked and Ben Moore singled, Austen Smith drew a two out walk to load the bases. Overstreet then lined a base clearing double in the left center gap. With the blow Oversteet took over the team RBI lead with 13. After retiring the first seven batters with three strikeouts, Hawley allowed a solo home run to Drew Griffin. The next batter singled but was erased by Booth on an attempted steal. Hawley cruised through the fourth and fifth with three more strikeouts before giving up one more run on a double, passed ball and wild pitch.
Jake Hubbard relieved in the seventh and pitched the rest of the way, allowing two hits, walking one and striking out three. Needing an insurance run to allow for some breathing room, the Tide created one
in the bottom of the eighth. After Overstreet walked, Mikey White executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance him to second. Steven Cole's ground ball moved him to third. Andrew Miller was then hit by a pitch putting runners on the corners. Salem, a left handed hitter and speedster, laid down a perfect two out bunt and beat it out, scoring Overstreet to stretch the lead to 4-2.
Hubbard then closed things out in the ninth, allowing one hit but nothing more. Hawley threw six outstanding innings in his first start since April 4th of 2011. Based on Wednesday nights outing Hawley appears to be fully recovered from the Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss all of last season. Hawley said " I was throwing in the high 80's for most of the night, and was throwing strikes." Hubbard earned the save with his three innings, allowing only two hits and one walk. He also struck out three batters. Hawley's win was his third of the season to lead the team, and Hubbard's save was his team leading third of the year.
Overstreet was the key on offense with a 2-2 night with two walks and three RBIs. Moore was 2-4 with two stolen bases. Booth and Salem had the other hits with one each. Roberts contributed two walks and a stolen base. Booth continues to lead the team with a .296 average. Moore, after a slow start, is up to .271 good for second on the team. Salem comes in at .261, and has reached base in 16 of 17 games this season. Booth and Moore both have two home runs to lead the team. As a team the Tide has stolen 25 bases in 29 attempts, lead by Moore's seven for seven.
Bouncing back from a five game losing streak was big for this team heading into SEC play this weekend. The energy and enthusiasm Wednesday was a big improvement and could go a long way toward helping this team reach its goals. They need to continue to have great pitching, play outstanding defense and find ways to create offense and score runs. They will never be a great hitting team (after all the team average is .220 right now) but should show better than they are right now. Booth is clearly the team leader and is doing a good job of keeping the players together.
This weekend the hated Tennessee Vols come to town for a three-game series. Friday's first pitch is at 6:35 p.m., Saturday will being at 6:05 p.m. and Sunday at 1:05 p.m. Hopefully Spring weather will be here and we can help the team by having a large,vocal crowd at The Joe for the series. Once again Friday night has a conflict with Gymnastics, who host Oklahoma at Coleman Coliseum, so come out early so not to fight for a parking place. This will be the sixth scheduling conflict out of 11 home games so far this season. It will be nice when baseball isn't considered then "red headed step child" of the athletic department.
Roll Tide Ya'll Roger