Alabama was looking forward to testing themselves with a single game with 11th ranked Oregon on Thursday, and a three game series with 21st ranked Houston on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Rain and some injuries interfered with plans, and after the Oregon game was rained out, the team played through a steady drizzle on Friday and Saturday before finally getting clear weather on Sunday. Houston won on Friday night 3-1 in a pitching duel, and 3-2 on Saturday, before the Tide bounced back for a dramatic 7-6 win on Sunday.
The Tide's depth was tested over the weekend, when several unfortunate turns of event led to reserve players having to step up. Sunday starter Nick Eicholtz missed his second straight week with a strained forearm, Connor Short was knocked out (literally) in Saturday's game, sustaining a concussion in a collision with catcher Tanner DeVinny. Keith Holcombe was a late scratch on Sunday. Cody Henry missed Friday's game with a back issue. And Thomas Burrows injured his oblique warming up on Sunday and could not close out the game. In their stead Hunter Webb, Jon Keller, Daniel Cucjen and Dylan Durate stepped in and took up the slack.
Game One: Lost 3-1
The Tide's Geoffrey Bramblett and the Cougars Andrew Lantrip faced off in Game One in a battle of top line starters. Lantrip was outstanding, pitching eight strong innings, allowing six hits, one run and striking out 13 with no walks. Bramblett battled through 4.1 innings, allowing four hits, walking four, striking out four and only allowing one run.
The Cougars got on the board first when freshman phenom Joe Davis hit a deep home run to left in the fifth inning. Davis came into the weekend hitting .468 with four home runs. 'Bama tied the game in the seventh when their own freshman slugger Chandler Taylor hit a laser shot bomb over the Houston bullpen in right center field. Kyle Cameron followed Bramblett on the mound and went 2.2 spotless innings, before giving way to Matt Foster in the eighth.
Foster had a scoreless eighth before running into trouble in the ninth. A walk and a single brought Davis to the plate and he slapped a double, scoring the Cougars second run. Dylan Durate entered the game and after a walk and a sacrifice fly ended the Houston ninth, with the Tide down 3-1. UH closer Nick Hernandez came on in the bottom half and allowed a lead off walk, but a double play and a strikeout ended the game with the Tide on the wrong end of a 3-1 game. Lantrip was the winning pitcher, Hernandez got a save, while Foster suffered the loss.
'Bama collected six hits, and only walked once, while striking out 14 times in the game. Houston had seven hits, drew six walks, and struck out only five times. Taylor was the only player with multiple hits for the Tide, adding a single to his home run.
Game Two: Lost 3-2
Jake Walters toed the rubber for Alabama in game two, against Seth Romero for Houston. Both pitched well enough to win, but Romero got the win, while Walters took the loss. The Cougars used one run in the third and two in the fourth to secure the win. 'Bama scored twice in the fifth, but squandered a couple of chances down the stretch to lose the game by a count of 3-2.
In the third, Houston started a two out rally with singles by Connor Wong and Michael Pyeatt. Walters then hit Joe Davis with a pitch before the run scored on an infield single by Justin Montemayor. The Cougars added to their lead in the fourth on a single, sac bunt, walk, and a double steal, where the ball was thrown away at third base. Another single by Wong scored what turned out to be the winning run.
'Bama got close in the fifth, scoring twice. Hunter Webb had a hustling one-out double, and scored on a single by Keith Holcombe. Holcombe advanced on a fly out, and scored on a wild pitch, cutting the margin to 3-2. The Tide got a single from Chance Vincent in the sixth, and after advancing on a balk, was stranded at second.
In the eighth, the Tide had their best chance of the night, loading the bases with one out, but failed to get the clutch hit they needed to tie the game or take the lead. Cobie Vance reached on a one out error, followed by a single by Vincent and a walk to Chandler Taylor. A force out at the plate and a pop out ended the inning with out any runs crossing the plate. Holcombe singled with two outs in the ninth, but advanced no further, ending the game.
The Tide got excellent relief pitching from two freshman right handers, Brock Love and Sam Finnerty, who threw two scoreless frames apiece. 'Bama batters struck out 13 times and drew two walks, while Houston struck out 10 times and only walked once.
Game Three: Won 7-6
Alabama called on veteran left hander Jon Keller to make the start on Sunday, and he acquitted himself quite well. Keller pitched six-plus innings, allowing six hits with one walk and three strikeouts, with four runs scored, only two of which were earned runs. Kyle Cameron, Matt Foster and Dylan Durate followed and all did well to finish the game. Keller reached 200 innings pitched for his career after the outing.
Houston jumped out early, as lead-off batter Connor Wong singled, stole second, and scored on a single by Justin Montemayor. The Tide answered with three runs of their own in the third. Will Haynie reached on an error, followed by a single by Daniel Cucjen. Hunter Webb then doubled both runners in. The Tide then got what they needed to plate their third run, a ground ball to second by Cobie Vance, and a RBI ground out to second by Chance Vincent. That is just the types of plays that the team has been missing in the last few games.
The Cougars came back to tie the game in the fourth on a walk, an error on a double play ball, a single, and a ground out. The Tide retook the lead in the sixth. Cody Henry led off with a double and scored on an error on a ball hit by Chandler Avant. Georgie Salem then lined a double in the left center gap to score Avant. Cucjen drilled a single up the middle to score Salem for the 6-3 lead.
When Jacob Campbell led off the seventh inning with a single off of Keller, coach Mitch Gaspard replaced the lefty with Kyle Cameron. Cameron allowed a walk, and after an error and a strikeout, a two run single by Wong. Matt Foster entered to pitch, and one more run scored on a sacrifice fly by Joe Davis.
Dylan Durate came into pitch in the eighth and allowed only a single, setting up some heroics for 'Bama in the bottom of the frame. With two outs, catcher Will Haynie found the pitch he wanted and hit a monstrous blast to left for a go ahead (and game winning) home run. Under ordinary circumstances All-American closer Thomas Burrows would have been brought in to nail down the victory in the top of the ninth. However while warming up the junior left hander felt some uncomfortableness in his oblique area and was unable to go. The freshman Durate calmly filled his shoes and had a perfect ninth inning, gaining his second victory of the year along the way.
Haynie had his best game of the year, with two hits, and also reached on a hit by pitch and by error. Cucjen had two safeties and Webb drove in two. Durate went two pressure filled innings allowing only one hit while striking out one and not walking a batter. The Tide walked twice and struck out only four times in the game. Houston drew two walks and struck out five times.
Overall, though the weekend was a disappointment, winning the getaway game should hopefully be a shot in the arm to a team that goes on the road for four games this week. The pitching continues to be outstanding, but if Burrows injury (not thought to be serious) is worse than expected, that would be a huge blow. Connor Short will have to go through concussion protocol, and most likely is out for Tuesday night's game. Eicholtz is expected back for the weekend series. Henry was able to play through uncomfortableness on Saturday and Sunday, and should be okay going forward. Holcombe's issue was not serious, and he should be good to go as well.
Cucjen stepped in at third base and played very well, getting some hits and making some nice plays defensively. Webb has contributed when he has had a chance, and the deep pitching staff has rolled out arm after arm with much success. All that being said, with games on Tuesday at Southern Miss, and in Baton Rouge with LSU on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the team is going to have to start hitting. For the weekend, the Tide was 20-98 with 31 strikeouts and only six walks. As good as the pitching is, they will need more support than they are receiving right now. The potential to do so is there, it just needs to be put into practice.
Tuesday's game at Southern Miss is at 6:00 p.m. and the LSU weekend series in Baton Rouge are set for 7:00 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 1:00 p.m. respectively.
Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It!
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