Alabama sent freshman Jake Walters to the mound to take on Texas A&M ace Grayson Long on Wednesday morning at the SEC Tournament. Long defeated the Tide earlier this season, pitching six innings and striking out 14 batters while allowing three hits and one walk in the previous outing. Two plays at the plate defined the game, with both going in the Aggies favor.
The Tide fared a little better against Long in this contest, jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead after two innings. Casey Hughston began the inning by drawing a walk, and when Kyle Overstreet's ground ball was booted by second baseman Ryne Birk, 'Bama was in business with two on and no outs. Cody Henry doubled to left to score Hughston, and J.C. Wilhite followed with an RBI single to bring in Overstreet. Alabama had runners on second and third with no outs, and could not do any further damage when Will Haynie and Riley Colburn both struck out and Chandler Avant flied out to right field. All the Tide needed with no outs was a ball put in play to score another run, as the infielders were playing back, but Long stiffened and notched the strikeouts when he needed them most.
Alabama stretched its margin to 3-0 in the top of the third with some more two-out magic reminiscent of Tuesday's win over Ole Miss (where all six runs were scored with two outs.) Hughston singled, stole second, and scored on an Overstreet single. Henry added another single, but another strikeout ended the threat.
The Aggies came up with some two out magic of their own in the bottom of the third, scoring three times to even the score. After two easy ground outs to begin the inning, Walters walked lead off man Blake Allemand worked a full count walk, the last two balls could have gone either way, which would have ended the inning. Birk followed with a double to right to score the first run. Mitchell Nau singled to right, and Hughston threw a perfect strike to Haynie at the plate for the tag, but somehow the runner was called safe. The throw was perfect, Haynie made a great grab and tag, all while blocking the plate, and home plate ump Tony Maners still called him safe. Logan Taylor followed with a double to tie the game.
That would be the last run of the game until the bottom of the eighth. Walters lasted 5.1 innings, allowing four hits, with three walks and four strikeouts and three runs. When Texas A&M had two runners reach on a walk and a single in the bottom of the sixth, Ray Castillo was called on for relief. Castillo got a ground ball to Overstreet at third, who stepped on the bag and gunned to first for a double play, ending the inning.
Ryan Hendrix replaced Long in the seventh, and pitched two perfect innings, collecting three strikeouts. Castillo pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning, and got the first batter in the bottom of the eighth. Nau reached after being hit by a pitch on a 3-2 offering, and Taylor singled. Thomas Burrows was called on the replace Castillo and face the left handed hitter Banks. Banks squeezed a single into center past a diving Avant at second, scoring what turned out to be the winning run. Burrows struck out the next two batters to end the inning.
The Aggie's brought in Andrew Vinson to face 'Bama in the top of the ninth, and the Tide made it interesting. Overstreet popped out to start the inning, and Henry drew a walk. Daniel Cucjen was brought on to pinch run for Henry. Wilhite lined his second single of the game, putting the tying run on second base. Haynie laced a line drive single to left, and Cucjen momentarily froze to make sure the ball went through, which cost the Tide. Cucjen was waved home and was called out a the plate on a perfect throw from Taylor from left field. With two outs and two on, Colburn was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Avant. Avant lifted a 2-1 pitch into shallow centerfield, ending the game with the Tide on the wrong end of a 4-3 score.
Castillo suffered his first loss of the season, dropping his record to 3-1, pitching two innings allowing one hit, one hit batter and one run. Burrows pitched 2/3 innings, allowing one single and struck out two. Long pitched six innings allowing six hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts. Hendrix was the winning pitcher and is now 5-2, and Vinson earned his fourth save with his one inning of work, allowing two hits, and walking one. Alabama outhit the Aggie's 8-6, but drew only two walks while striking out 12 times. A&M walked three times and struck out six times.
Alabama's back is once against the wall again this morning, as the Tide face the Missouri Tigers in an elimination game for both squads. Mizzou themselves are coming off of a heartbreaking comeback loss by Vanderbilt , as the 'Dores prevailed on a Wiseman walk-off homer, after trailing the scrappy Tigers all game.
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