Alabama used a complete game gem by sophomore right hander Geoffrey Bramblett and a four run seventh inning to defeat Ole Miss 6-1 in the opening game of the SEC Tournament. Bramblett was outstanding in pitching all nine innings, allowing nine singles, walking no one (one hit batter) and striking out a career high 10 men. The complete game was his second in postseason play, as he threw one in last year's regional to keep the Tide alive.
'Bama took a 2-0 lead in the top of the fifth inning, starting the rally after two were out. Chandler Avant and Georgie Salem singled, then pulled the old first-and-third double steal play with Avant scoring and Salem scurrying back to first base. Mikey White then singled, followed by an RBI single by Casey Hughston.
Ole Miss answered with their only run of the game in the bottom of the fifth on a lead-off single by Kyle Watson, who advanced on a ground out and scored on a RBI single by Errol Robinson. The Tide blew the game wide open in the top of the seventh, batting around and scoring four times. Riley Colburn singled and was sacrificed to second by Avant. After Salem flied to center for out two, the 'Bama bats woke up. White singled in Avant, then Hughston double in White. Kyle Overstreet reached on an error by the second baseman then Cody Henry and J.C. Wilhite both drilled run scoring singles, giving the Tide all six of their runs scored with two outs.
Bramblett ran into some trouble in the bottom of the eighth when Robinson and Will Golsan both singled to lead off the inning. The Hoover native then recovered to get a ground-out and two strikeouts to end the threat. Two runners reached base in the ninth for the Rebels, but Bramblett induced a pop out, a strikeout and a ground ball to end the game, finishing with 115 pitches. The win was Bramblett's team-high eighth of the year, putting his record at 8-3. Scott Weathersby suffered the loss for the Rebels, and now is 4-2 on the year.
The Tide collected 11 hits, drew two walks and only struck out five times in the game. The Rebels had nine mostly harmless singles, struck out 10 times, and did not draw a walk. Both teams left nine runners on base, and each team committed one error.
The performance by Bramblett is a much needed shot in the arm for a team that must go deep in the tournament to be considered for a regional spot. With the possibility of several games to be played, keeping the bullpen fresh was of utmost importance, and Bramblett did just that.
White, Hughston and Wilhite each had two hits while also driving in two runs. White, Henry and Wilhite also had RBIs in the game. Salem had a hit and drew both of the Tides walks in the game. The Tide improved to 31-26 on the year, while the Rebels fell to 30-26.
Next up for the Tide is third-seeded #10 Texas A&M. The Aggies are a sparkling 43-10 overall and 18-10 in the SEC, hitting .313 as a team with a 3.09 team ERA. Mitchell Nau leads the offense with a .377 average and 45 runs driven in. Nike Banks is hitting .371 with five home runs and 10 stolen bases. Blake Allemand, another of the conference's stud shortstops, checks in with a .361 batting average, while Logan Taylor is hitting .355 with a team leading 10 home runs. Hunter Melton (.321) and Ronnie Gideon (.307) are also over .300 for the Aggies.
Grayson Long is the leading pitcher for A&M with a perfect 9-0 record with a 2.59 ERA in 80 innings, while recording 90 strikeouts against only 36 walks. Matt Kent is 6-1 with a 3.74 ERA and Turner Larkins is 5-1 with a 3.96 earned run average. Mark Eckler leads in saves with eight, while Andrew Vinson has 29 appearances with a 4-1 record, three saves and a 1.14 ERA. A.J. Minter missed much of the season but in four starts is 2-0 with a .043 ERA in 21 innings thrown, with 29 strikeouts. Kyle Simmonds, Ryan Hendrix and Ty Schlottmann are also extensively used out of the bull pen.
Jake Walters gets the start against TAMU, coming in at 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 51 innings pitched. Taylor Guilbeau will pitch on Thursday and is 2-6 with a 3.68 ERA and leads the team with 75 strikeouts. Jay Shaw and Will Carter have been outstanding the last two weeks, and will be called on the eat innings during the Tides tournament run. Freshman lefty Alex Watkins has had three good performances in a row, and likely will be needed as well. Nick Eicholotz has been battling an injured finger, and Mitch Greer is set for Tommy John surgery after blowing his elbow out against Vanderbilt last weekend. Wilhite and Jake Hubbard are other arms that will be needed for the Tide to make the deep run that they need.
The Tide has played their best baseball of the season right now, and is 8-2 in their last 10 games. To extend the season the team will need to go deep in the tournament, if not win the whole thing. That is an unlikely scenario, but the way the team is playing right now, leads to more confidence, and better play over all. Although the season has been a disappointment so far, the fine play of late is an encouraging sign, and who knows, maybe the Tide can catch lightning in a bottle.
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