Alabama arrived in Nashville to play Vanderbilt feeling as if they needed to steal a victory to enhance their post season hopes. Instead the Tide stared the mighty Commodores (46-6 overall, 24-2 SEC record) in the eye and punched and counter punched their way to one victory and two close losses.
Thursday 'Bama started Charley Sullivan on the mound and Vandy countered with freshmen Walker Buehler. Buehler came into the game with a 3-1 record and a 2.45 ERA. The Commodores jumped out early by striking with two run home runs in the first and second innings. SEC batting champion Tony Kemp lead off with a single, but was cut down stealing by 'Bama's strong armed catcher Brett Booth. Kemp also lead the league in stolen bases this season. Mike Yastrzemski (yes, Carl's grandson) singled with two outs and came home on Connor Harrell's 11th home run of the season. Freshmen Kyle Smith, from ninth spot in the order, launched another two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the second.
Vandy added a single run in the third after Yastrzemski doubled and scored on a double play ground ball. 'Bama finally got on the board in the fourth when Mikey White and Andrew Miller had singles, and White scored on an error. The Commodores stretched the lead back out in the fourth, chasing Sullivan from the hill in favor of the seldom used Taylor Wolfe. Smith doubled with two outs and scored on Xavier Turner's double. Wolfe entered the game and hit the first batter he faced, loading the bases, before getting out of the jam on a ground ball to second baseman Kyle Overstreet. Wolfe pitched admirably, allowing only a run in the sixth on a balk, and was replaced by Keaton Haack. Haack pitched the final 2 and 1/3 innings, allowing one hit, no runs, and striking out two.
'Bama closed the gap to 7-2 in the seventh inning as White doubled, was sacrificed to third by Miller, and scored on Chance Vincent's single. The Tide made things interesting in the ninth as Booth lead off the inning with a walk. White was retired, but Miller worked a walk and Vincent added his second single to load the bases. Vandy then called on their closer Brian Miller, who had 13 saves, five victories, and an impressive 1.27 ERA in 26 appearances. Kenny Roberts rudely greeted Miller's first pitch with a blast over the 'Dore's version of the green monster in left for a grand slam, cutting the lead to 7-6 with only one out. Miller recovered to get the next two batters, ending the game.
Roberts lead the offense with his 2-5, four RBI game. White and Vincent both had two hits. Overstreet, Miller and Booth all had one hit for 'Bama.
Friday's game two pitching matchup featured Spencer Turnbull for 'Bama and Kevin Ziomek for Vanderbilt. Ziomek carried a 10-2 record and a 2.00 ERA into the game. Once again Vandy jumped out early, scoring single runs in the first and third innings. 'Bama's dynamic duo of freshmen White and Overstreet helped keep the game close, turning three double plays in the first four innings. 'Bama was able to tie the game in the fourth on two walks, two errors by Ziomek and a single by White.
Turnbull lasted 5 and 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits while walking four and hitting one batter. The two runs he allowed were both earned. Justin Kamplain, normally 'Bama's Sunday starter, relieved in the sixth and got out of a bases loaded jam with two strikeouts. Vandy was able to tie the game in the eighth on one single, a hit batter, two sac bunts and an error.
The Tide could not score in the ninth, and called on Jay Shaw to pitch in the bottom of the ninth. Shaw continued his impressive late season hurling by throwing another shut out inning, stranding runners on second and third. White opened the top of the 10th with a single for 'Bama. Miller laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to try and put White in scoring position. Miller was hit by the throw to first, and 'Bama should have had runners on the corners with no outs. However the umpires ruled interference on Miller, who was called out, and White had to return to first base. Vincent was hit by a pitch and Georgie Salem lined a two out single off of Jared Miller to score White, giving the Tide a 5-4 lead.
Freshmen closer Ray Castillo was called on to finish the victory, and did so, allowing only a two out single, before retiring Kemp to end the game, and give 'Bama only their second extra inning win in eight tries. Turnbull, Kamplain, Shaw, who was credited with the victory, and Castillo did a remarkable job to secure the win. The save was Castillo's 10th of the year.
Offensively the freshmen lead the way. White collected three hits, Overstreet and Vincent, two each. Salem's only hit provided the winning RBI. Ben Moore and Roberts had the other two hits for the Tide.
Game three on Saturday resembled the old time Sunday SEC games, back before the bat changes, and ended with 'Bama on the wrong end of a 14-10 barn burner. Sophomore Taylor Guilbeau received the starting nod for Alabama and was matched up against All-American, and future first round draft pick, Tyler Beede. Beede came into the game with a perfect 13-0 record and a sparkling ERA of 1.73, having pitched 83 innings, and only allowing 47 hits, a ridiculous stat line for any level of play.
Things started well enough with 'Bama taking a 1-0 lead in the second inning on Austen Smith's single, stolen base, and Booth's RBI double. The Tide quickly unraveled in the second. Guilbeau walked the first four hitters of the inning before being replaced by Jon Keller. Keller lasted 1/3 of an inning before being replaced by Tucker Hawley. By the time the carnage was over the Commodores had put a seven spot on the scoreboard. With Beede on the mound and a six run lead, Vandy appeared to be ready to coast home to victory. However, this young Tide team obviously doesn't know the word quit, and continued to battle.
Moore, White, Smith and Booth all singled to open the inning. Booth's hit drove in two runs. Miller had an RBI ground out, and Salem ripped an RBI single. Beede was knocked out of the game early for the first time this season, departing after 3 and 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits and six earned runs. Hawley kept the Tide close, pitching 3 and 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits, one walk, and striking out two. Vanderbilt roughed up Haack for five runs in the sixth, knocking him out after only getting one out. Mike Oczypok replaced Haack and after allowing a double, got the final two out.
'Bama trailed 12-6 entering the seventh inning, but once again proved resilient, putting up three runs to make the score 12-9. White walked, Booth lined his fourth hit of the day, Miller walked, and with two outs Vincent continued his late season surge with a triple into the right field corner, clearing the bases. Oczypok got through the seventh inning, but ran into trouble in the eighth and allowed two runs. Trey Pilkington came on to record the third out, in only his fourth trip to the mound this year.
'Bama started the ninth by White reaching on an error and Smith smacking a double. However after Miller lined an RBI single, the Tide was retired, and the game ended 14-10. Booth led the offense with his 4-4 game, adding two RBI's. Smith had a three hit game, and Vincent was 2-3, with 3 RBI's. Roberts, Salem, Moore, White and Miller all had one safety each. Hawley and Pilkington were the only bright spots among the six pitchers that toiled for the Tide.
Vincent was the leading hitter for the weekend, going 6-11. White, who leads the team in SEC batting average with a .350 mark, was 6-13, Booth went 5-13 and Roberts 4-14.
Despite losing the series 'Bama draws a lot of positives from the weekend. The Tide became the only team in the SEC to take a victory from both LSU and Vanderbilt with Fridays win. 'Bama showed a propensity to not give up, even after falling behind by large margins to a very highly ranked team. White and Vincent's late season surge offensively is a big positive going forward. The teams recent power hitting has improved drastically, coinciding with a switch in bats and the warmer weather. 'Bama has doubled its number of home runs and doubles over the last month of the season.
The next order of business is the SEC tournament at The Hoover Met, starting Tuesday. 'Bama is the number seven seed, and plays 10th seeded Auburn in their opener. The first game of the day begins at 9:30 a.m. and the Tide and Tigers play following that game. Hoover officials hope not to duplicate the fiasco of a couple of years ago, when many fans could not get the park before the game was half over because of poor traffic management. 'Bama finished the regular season with a 32-24 record, 14-15 in the SEC.
Moore leads the team with his .290 batting average. Moore also leads in RBI's with 38, doubles with 12, triples with four, total bases with 95, slugging percentage with .438, and stolen bases with 16. White and Overstreet are second in average at .284. Booth and Smith lead in home runs with six each.
This team has been up and down at times this season, but has never given up. They battle and do not quit, ever. The teams record should be enough to get them into an NCAA regional, but a win or two in Hoover would definitely make the choice a no brainer.
Bama Baseball Fever..Catch It!
Roll Tide Y'all