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Tide Takes One of Three From Vandy, Clinches SEC Tournament Berth

The Crimson Tide went toe to toe with 7th ranked Vanderbilt all weekend, losing by scores of 2-1 and 7-5 before taking Saturday's finale by a 1-0 margin. The Tide clinched the 11th seed for the SEC Tournament.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide has had a disappointing season by all accounts, but has played their best baseball of the season the last two weeks. 'Bama has won seven of their last nine games, including taking one out of three from the mighty Vanderbilt Commodores this weekend. The seventh-ranked Commodores won the first two games by scores of 2-1 and 7-5 before the Tide bounced back to win 1-0 on Saturday, in a tense contest

The Tide was assured of being a part of the SEC Tournament before the game started by virtue of Georgia losing to Arkansas in a game earlier in the day. The only question was seeding, as the Tide could have landed the 11th or 12th seed. With the Tide taking game three they became the 11th seed and will play 6th seeded Ole Miss on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m in the opening game of the tournament.

Game One: Vanderbilt 2 Alabama 1

With Vanderbilt All-American and soon-to-be first-round draft pick Carson Fulmer on the hill, 'Bama knew hits and runs would be few and far between. The Tide's Taylor Guilbeau drew the assignment opposite Fulmer and acquitted himself quite well but was handed the loss, despite only giving up two runs.

Fulmer showed why he will be a top 10 pick in next months MLB draft, pitching a complete game, two-hit  gem. The junior right-hander threw 127 pitches on the night, allowing only two first inning singles while walking four and striking out a career-tying high of 14 batters. Guilbeau and Ray Castillo for the Tide were almost as good in a thrilling pitching duel. Guilbeau threw six innings, allowing three hits with three walks and three strikeouts, and allowed both runs (earned.) Castillo pitched three very impressive innings, allowing just one hit with one walk and striking out seven of the nine batters he faced.

The Tide got all of their offense in the bottom of the first with a two-out rally. Mikey White singled, followed by a Casey Hughston walk. Kyle Overstreet then delivered an RBI single up the middle for an early 1-0 lead for 'Bama. Little did they know that would be the last hit the team would have in the game.

Guilbeau was cruising along through five and two thirds innings before running into trouble with two outs in the sixth. At that point the senior left-hander had only thrown 54 pitches, and seemed to be in complete control. However the Commodores drew two straight walks before All American shortstop Dansby Swanson doubled in both runners. A hit batter and another walk followed before Guilbeau gathered himself and recorded out three. When Guilbeau hit the lead off batter in the seventh, Castillo was called to the mound. Will Haynie threw the runner out trying to steal, and Castillo struck out the next seven batters.

With Fulmer mowing down the Tide inning by inning, mixed only with an occasional walk, the Commodores had all the runs they would need to secure the victory. The only mild threat the Tide had was when Georgie Salem drew a lead-off walk in the sixth, but it was erased on a blown double play call on a ball hit by Hughston. Replays showed that Hughston beat the throw by a good two steps, but first base umpire Richie Tallent, continued to show why he is one of the worse umpires in the SEC, and called Hughston out.

Fulmer seemed to get stronger as the game went on, and in his 127 pitches 15 of them reached 97 mph on the radar gun. Fulmer consistently hit 94-95 mph the whole game. White and Overstreet's first inning singles were the only hits the Tide could muster. Georgie Salem drew two walks and Cody Henry and Hughston drew one apiece.

Game Two: Vanderbilt 7 Alabama 5

Alabama sent freshman Jake Walters out in game two to face Vanderbilt lefty Philip Pfeifer,  in what seemed like the one matchup that might favor the Tide in the series. Walters, who has been outstanding all year, was roughed up to the tune of seven hits and six runs (all earned) in 1.1 innings pitched. Jay Shaw replaced him, and in a career best performance, kept the Tide in the game, tossing 6.2 innings, allowing five hits with one walk, six strikeouts, and only one run.

Vanderbilt jumped all over Walters in the top of the first with three runs on a single, two doubles and a triple. 'Bama was able to answer with one run in the bottom of the first. Mikey White doubled with two outs, advanced on a Casey Hughston single, and scored on a wild pitch.

In the top of the second Walters was touched for two singles and a triple before being replaced by Shaw with one out. VU managed an infield single to plate one run, but Shaw got a pop out and strikeout to end the frame with the Tide down 6-1. 'Bama started chipping away at the lead in the fourth, scoring twice. Kyle Overstreet singled to start the inning, followed by a walk to Cody Henry. J.C. Wilhite lined an RBI single and Will Haynie hit a deep sacrifice fly to right field to plate the Tide runs.

Georgie Salem lead off the bottom of the fifth for 'Bama with a single and Mikey White walked, giving the Tide two base runners with no outs. A passed ball advanced the runners and Overstreet's ground ball out drove Salem home, cutting the lead to 6-4 headed to the sixth inning. Shaw continued his mastery of the Commodore lineup, throwing up zero after zero, to give the Tide a chance.

'Bama cut the lead to 6-5 in the sixth when Will Haynie led off with a double, was sacrificed to third by Riley Colburn, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Chandler Avant.  Vandy finally reached Shaw in the eighth on a two out solo home run by light hitting Tyler Campbell, his first of the year. Mitch Greer replaced Shaw in the eighth and walked his first batter, who was gunned down by Haynie trying to steal. After a pop out for out two, Greer threw a pitch that hit Zander Weil, then the hurler immediately grabbed his elbow and headed off the mound. The hard-throwing junior apparently blew out his elbow and is very likely heading for surgery. Greer, who graduated in three years this spring, had just come into his own over the last half of the season. Wilhite came on to record the final out.

Over the last three innings 'Bama could only manage an Overstreet single and could not mount any further threat. Walters took the loss, making his record 4-4, while Jordan Sheffield was awarded the win and Kyle Wright picked up the save.

White, Overstreet and Salem had two hits apiece for the Tide, with Hughston , Wilhite and Haynie recorded one each. Vanderbilt collected 12 hits, with seven coming in the first 1.1 innings of the game.

Going into Saturday's game three 'Bama needed either a win, or a loss by Georgia or Tennessee to assure a place in the SEC Tournament. UGA lost early in the day, so the Tide knew they had made the field, as UT mounted a ninth inning three-run rally to defeat hapless Mississippi State 3-2, and earn the sweep.

Game Three: Alabama 1 Vanderbilt 0

With 'Bama safely in the tournament, starter Geoffrey Bramblett was limited to one inning (as he will start Tuesday's tourney game vs. Ole Miss.) He combined with Alex Watkins, Will Carter and Thomas Burrows to toss a five-hit shutout for the Tide.

Bramblett allowed a lead off single in the first, and got one strikeout in his tune up for Tuesday. Freshman left-hander Watkins followed and pitched 3.1 innings, allowing two walks, two hits and striking out three, often baffling the Commodores with an array of slow, slower and slowest curve balls and change ups. Carter pitched three scoreless innings, allowing two hits while walking two and striking out one. Burrows pitched the final 1.2 innings in perfect fashion, earning his sixth save. Carter got his second victory of the week and is now 4-5 on the season.

Vanderbilt starter Walker Buehler, another 'Dore pitcher slated to be a top draft pick, pitched 6.2 innings, allowing seven hits with three walks and three strikeout. He also allowed the only run of the game (earned.) 'Bama strung together three hits in the bottom of the sixth to score the only run it needed. Georgie Salem led off with a single, then White hit a long fly ball to the warning track in left for out one. Casey Hughston singled, and Salem scored when freshman switch hitter Cody Henry dumped a single into left center field.

The Commodores threatened in the fifth, loading the bases before Carter came on to put out the fire. VU threatened again in the eighth when Burrows bailed Carter out with a double play ground ball. The Tide almost broke the game open in the eighth with a two-out rally. Chandler Avant singled and Salem doubled ahead of an intentional walk to Mikey White. With the bases loaded and two outs Hughston laced what appeared to be a single up the middle, but was robbed on a great play by second baseman Tyler Campbell, on a ball that would have scored two runs.

Burrows had a perfect 1-2-3 ninth inning on three pop outs to earn a team-leading sixth save of the season. The Tide outhit the Commodores 7-5 and neither team made an error in a crisp, well-played game. Salem had two of the Tide's seven hits, and Ro Coleman had three of the five Commodore hits.

Postseason prognosis

For Alabama it might be a case of too little, too late as far as NCAA Tournament aspirations are concerned, unless a run through the SEC Tournament happens. The Tide underachieved for much of the year, after coming into the season ranked 25th in most polls. However, Alabama has played much better baseball the last two weeks of the season following a disastrous, oft-embarrassing performance in being swept by Arkansas at home. Vanderbilt is the defending National Champion, and have to be considered a threat to reach Omaha and the College World Series again this year. The Commodores have at least three potential first round draft picks in Carson Fulmer, Dansby Swanson and Walker Buehler, as well as several other players that should be drafted. 'Bama played toe to toe with VU, who is a much more talented team than the Tide.

'Bama will play the opening game of the SEC Tournament at 9:30 a.m on Tuesday against the Ole Miss Rebels. Geoffrey Bramblett will receive the start on the mound for the Tide. The Tuesday games are single elimination, before reverting to double elimination with Wednesday's games. The winner of the Alabama-Ole Miss game finds No. 3 seed Texas A&M.

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