The Alabama Crimson Tide baseball team welcomed overflow crowds, dignitaries, and the Maryland Terrapins to town this weekend to show off their 43 million dollar stadium. The Tide used strong pitching and timely hitting to win two of the three games over the favorites to win the Big 10.
Friday's opening game was preceded by a ribbon cutting on the field, highlighted by school President Stuart Bell, Athletics Director Bill Battle, Board of Trustee members Paul Bryant Jr. and Karen Brooks and members of the steering committee for the stadium renovation (which this writer is a member of.) Battle said a few words, the ribbon was cut and the action was finally ready to take place. The anxious team, who had to play all of their home games in Hoover last year, were chomping at the bit to take the field, and they did to a thunderous ovation.
** Game One ** Alabama 3 Maryland 1
Junior right hander Geoffrey Bramblett got the start on the mound for the Tide, and even though he didn't have his best stuff, gutted out 5.1 strong innings, allowing only one run on three hits, with four walks and six strikeouts. The Hoover native left after throwing 90 pitches. Maryland All-American Mike Shawaryn lasted five inning, giving up three hits and two runs while ringing up eight strikeouts.
'Bama got on the board first on a first inning home run by freshman right fielder Chandler Taylor. In his first college at bat in his first game, Taylor lifted a long blast into the student section in the right field plaza, setting off a "beer shower" celebration in the packed out area. Maryland answered with their only run of the game in the top of the second as Bramblett allowed one single, and three walks, the last of which drove in the run.
Bramblett settled down and lasted into the sixth inning. After recording the first out, he was replaced by fifth year senior left hander Jon Keller. Keller returned this season after missing all of last year with Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm. The Tide scored the go ahead run in the bottom of the sixth when Chandler Avant doubled and scored on Taylor's RBI single up the middle.
'Bama added an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh when Avant's single scored Georgie Salem, who had walked. Keller went 1.2 innings before being replaced by JUCO transfer righty Matt Foster. Foster pitched a perfect eighth and recorded two strikeouts. Closer Thomas Burrows came on for the save chance in the ninth, and recorded three quick outs including a strikeout and two ground ball outs to end the game. Keller was the winning pitcher and Shawaryn suffered the loss. Shawaryn was 13-1 last season.
A key play in the game came when center fielder Salem ran down a long drive in the left center gap and laid out to make the spectacular catch, all the while gashing his arm open (to the tune of four stitches after the game.) The Chandler's (Avant and Taylor) and the pitching were the other factors in taking the opening day victory.
** Game Two ** Maryland 9 Alabama 5
Sophomore right hander Jake Walters squared off with Maryland's Taylor Bloom in the game two pitching matchup. The Tide jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second when Chance Vincent singled in Cody Henry, who had walked. Walters cruised through the first three innings, striking out six and allowing only an infield single, but ran in to major trouble in the fourth. A lead off single was followed by a two run home run, which was followed by a walk and another two run homer. Following two outs and a walk, Walters was replaced by freshman lefty Dylan Durate, making his Tide debut. Durate was greeted by yet another two run home run, the Terrapins third of the inning.
'Bama got one run back in the bottom of the fourth when freshman second baseman Cobie Vance homered over the left field wall, one of his four hits in the game. The Tide's Tanner Devinny and Connor Short followed with singles, setting the team up to cut further into the lead. However, the next three batters were retired to stymie the rally.
Vance singled in Georgie Salem in the fifth following Salem's walk, to cut the lead to 7-3. In the sixth Short doubled and scored on a single by Chance Vincent. Vincent later scored on a great at bat by Chandler Avant, who drove the run in by hitting a ground ball to the right side for an RBI. At 7-5 'Bama had the momentum and seemed poised to make the come back.
Maryland added two in the eighth after a walk, a hit batter and a two run double, stretching the lead out to the final margin of 9-5. Freshman Kyle Cameron and RS junior Mike Oczypok finished out the game for the Tide on the mound. Oczypok saw his first action since 2013, as he missed the last two seasons following two Tommy John surgeries.
The Tide lost the game despite outhitting the Terrapins 13-8. Vance and his four hits were joined by three hit games by Vincent and Short. Walters suffered the loss and Bloom received the victory, setting up the rubber game of the series on Sunday at noon.
** Game Three ** Alabama 5 Maryland 1
Junior right handed pitcher Nick Eicholtz started on the mound for the Tide on Sunday, matched up against Brian Shaffer. Eicholtz very possibly has the best stuff on the staff, and there were many scouts on hand to take in his start. The Odessa, Florida native was efficient early on and pitched into the seventh inning.
'Bama got on the board twice in the third when Chance Vincent was hit by a pitch and scored on a double by Chandler Avant. Avant came across the plate on a single by Cody Henry. Eicholtz was never really in trouble through six complete innings, but ran into problems in the seventh. The first two batters singled, followed by a Justin Morris sacrifice bunt. Eicholtz fielded it and threw it wide of first base for an error, yielding the only Maryland run of the day.
Matt Foster was summoned from the bullpen with runners on second and third and no outs. The righty got a key strikeout of the first batter, with the second out recorded when Madison Nickens missed the coach's bunt signal, leaving the hard charging Jamal Wade as a dead duck. Catcher Will Haynie chased Wade down and tagged him out before he could return to third base. Foster then walked a batter and coaxed a fly ball to center to end the threat with the Tide still up 2-1.
Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard showed how much he wanted this series win by calling on closer Thomas Burrows in the eighth inning. Burrows made quick work of the eighth, notching two strikeouts and a ground out. 'Bama busted the game wide open in the bottom of the frame. Avant singled and advanced on a wild pitch, then scored an insurance run on a single by Henry. Cobie Vance then blasted a double to right-center, putting runners on second and third. Conner Short lined a double of his own, scoring both runs for a 5-1 lead. Burrows slammed the door shut in the bottom of the inning, making quick work of the Terps, with two more strikeouts and a ground out to end the game.
The Tide won with only six hits, two by Avant and Henry and one each by Short and Vance. Henry and Short drove in two each.
*** Cobie Vance was 6-12 with a double, home run and two runs driven in on the weekend.
*** Connor Short was 4-8 with two doubles and two RBI.
*** Chandler Avant was 4-13 with two doubles and three driven in.
*** Chandler Taylor was 3-10 with a home run, two walks and a hit by pitch.
*** Chance Vincent was 3-6 with two RBI, two walks, and was hit twice.
*** Cody Henry was 3-10 with two driven in and two walks.
*** Thomas Burrows had two saves in three innings pitched, not allowing a run and striking out five.
*** Nick Eicholtz had a win with six innings pitched, and one run (unearned).
*** Friday and Saturday's games were both sellouts with 5867 on Friday, 6449 on Saturday (extra standing room tickets were sold) and a nice Sunday crowd of 4119.
The weekend was a very good start for a team that needed one. Beating a good "Power Five" member that is favored to win the BIG 10 could lead to big things for this Bama squad. The influx of young talent, led by Vance and Taylor give the team a little more swagger than they have had in the past. The steady veteran presence of Salem, Haynie and Vincent mix well with the enthusiastic youngsters and creates a good chemistry. The pitching staff is deep, talented and versatile, with young mixed with old, right handers mixed with leftys, and several guys that can fill many roles. Foster and Burrows at the back of the game are going to be a fantastic duo, and several key arms weren't even used this weekend, including seniors Ray Castillo and Jake Hubbard, as well as sophomores Tyler Adams and Tyler McMurray. This team that was picked by league coaches to finish last in the SEC, may very well surprise many people.
Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It!
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