The Alabama Crimson Tide continued the formula that has gotten them off to a fast start this season, very good starting pitching, outstanding relief pitching and sparse, but timely hitting, in sweeping the North Dakota Fighting Hawks in a three game set at home this weekend. The scores were 2-1 on Friday, 5-2 on Saturday and 7-1 on Sunday. The Tide won despite having a total of 15 hits over the three games. The 30th ranked Tide is now 6-1 on the season. North Dakota fell to 2-4 on the year. The Hawks went to Los Angeles last weekend and took two out of three games against the 12th ranked USC Trojans.
** Game One- 2-1 Tide Victory**
Friday night was a good old fashioned pitcher duel, pitting North Dakota lefty Zach Muckenhirn against 'Bama righty Geoffrey Bramblett. Muckenhirn was coming off of a complete game 3-0 victory over USC were he only allowed three hits with nine strikeouts and only one walk. The crafty southpaw was as advertised and the Tide had to fight and scrap for everything they got in the game.
Both pitchers were mowing down the opposition through five innings before 'Bama finally broke through in the bottom of the sixth with a single run. Chance Vincent singles with one out, and advanced to third when Gene Wood's sacrifice bunt was mishandled by Hunter Walsh at first base. Chandler Avant then drove a long drive to center field for a sacrifice fly, scoring Vincent.
The Fighting Hawks finally reached Bramblett in the eighth when Walsh swatted a long solo home run to left, tying the game at one apiece. Matt Foster came on in relief to start the ninth and had a quick 1-2-3 innings, with two strikeouts. That set up the Tide for heroics in the bottom of the ninth. Chandler Taylor started the frame by reaching base on an error by Ben Reznicek at second base. Muckenhirn was replaced at that point by Luke Hansen after throwing 96 pitches, with only four hits allowed, with one walk and 12 strikeouts. Cody Henry was the first to the plate and was promptly hit by a pitch. Taylor advanced to third on a wild pitch after one out. Keith Holcombe came to the plate with a chance to bring in the winning run. Taylor missed a sign, and took off from third expecting a squeeze bunt, Holcombe had the whereabouts to slap at the ball, and drive it up the middle for single to score the winning run.
Bramblett pitched eight strong innings, allowing only four hits, one run, with two walks and six strikeouts. Foster was awarded the win. Muckenhirn was the losing pitcher despite not allowing any earned runs, and now has a 0.00 ERA in 17 innings pitched this season. The Tide collected five hits on the night.
**Game Two- Bama Wins 5-1**
Sophomore right hander Jake Walters took the mound for the Tide in game two, and was outstanding in a seven inning, 99 pitch outing. The Thompson High product allowed six hits, with one walk and a career high 13 strikeouts, allowing two runs, both unearned. The Tide scored their five runs on only six hits, but also reached base on five walks and one hit batter.
North Dakota took the early lead in the third, scoring both their runs helped along by some sloppy defense by the Tide. After a lead off double the Hawks used three bunts and a walk to score. Catcher Tanner DeVinny pounced on the first bunt and had a great chance to cut down the lead runner at third, but threw the ball into left field, allowing the run to score. A passed ball brought in the second tally.
'Bama cut into the lead in the third when Keith Holcombe lead off with a single, and advanced to second on a wild pick off attempt. Chandler Taylor drove a single through the right side, scoring Holcombe. The Tide tied the game in the fifth when Cobie Vance singled, advanced to second when Georgie Salem walked, and to third on a perfect sac bunt by Sam Finnerty. Devinny just missed a home run to right, but the ball was pulled in at the wall for a sacrifice fly, tying the game.
The Tide took the lead for good in the sixth on a RBI bunt single by Salem. Insurance followed with a single run in the seventh, and a solo home run by Salem in the eighth. Salem finished 2-3 with two RBIs and a walk, and Taylor was 2-4 with a run driven in.
Walters was followed bywho had a quick, six pitch, perfect eighth inning, and closer Thomas Burrows came on for the ninth. Burrows threw nine pitches, recorded a strikeout, and notched his third save of the young season, and tied the career Alabama record for career saves with 21.
**Game Three-Bama Wins 7-1**
Nick Eicholtz and a host of relief pitchers took their turn shutting down North Dakota in Sundays third game, a 7-1 Tide victory. Eicholtz started and pitched the first three innings, allow two hits with one walk and three strikeouts, allowing one unearned run. The Odessa Florida native has now thrown 10 innings this season without allowing an earned run.
Once again the Hawks jumped out to the early lead, 1-0 after two innings. 'Bama took the lead for good in the third inning, scoring three times. Connor Short lead off with a walk, followed by a one out single by Chance Vincent. Keith Holcombe then slapped a drive over the shallow playing left fielders head that he legged out for a standup, two run triple.
The Tide put the game away in the eighth, scoring four times with the aid of only one hit. Holcombe started things off and after being hit by a pitch, stole second base, advanced to third on a fly out, and scored on a wild pitch. Chandler Taylor walked, followed by a double from Cody Henry. Taylor scored on a wild pitch, Henry scored on a ground ball by Salem that was booted and Short ended the scoring with a sacrifice fly.
Dylan Durate, Kyle Cameron, Matt Foster and Thomas Burrows followed on the mound, and shutout North Dakota the rest of the way. Durate went 2.2 innings and was awarded the first victory of his college career. The Tide scored their seven runs on only four hits, and had five reach via base on balls and two by being hit by a pitch.
'Bama is off to a nice start at 6-1, with quality series wins over Maryland and North Dakota. ND is a sneaky good team that will give a lot of teams trouble. With Muckenhirn they have one of the top pitchers in the country, and he will give his team a chance in every game he pitches. The Hawks will not even play a home game until early April, as the fly the friendly skies all over the country to play good, big name teams.
The Tide pitching has been simply put, outstanding. With Bramblett, Walters and Eicholtz as weekend starters there really isn't a weak spot. That being said the bullpen may be even better. With Foster and Burrows at the back end, if 'Bama can reach the seventh inning with a lead it is pretty much lights out for the opponent.
The hitting has been very timely, and the situational hitting has been outstanding. When a bunt is needed, it is getting put down. If a sacrifice fly is called for, there it is. A grounder to the right side? Got it. That seems to be the biggest improvement thus far on the offensive side. Freshmen Chandler Taylor and Cobie Vance are already studs, and will only get better. Henry, Salem, Avant, Short and Vincent are very capable and will all hit going forward. Keith Holcombe has already made a big contribution in his short time over from football. Despite having to still participate in the grueling fourth quarter program with football, he has still found a way to get in his baseball work and contribute to the team. His speed at the top of the line up has already been evident. This team was picked to finish last in the SEC, but have the ability to finish much higher and get to regional play at the end of the season.
The next game is Tuesday night at 6pm at Troy. Next weekend the team travels to Cary, North Carolina for four games in the USA-Irish Classic. The Tide will play Notre Dame on Friday at 4 pm, and a double-header with Niagara and North Carolina State on Saturday (11:30 am and 3:30 pm ) as well as a single game on Sunday vs Brown at 11 am.
Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It.
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