For the second time in as many weeks the Alabama baseball team was forced to play a double header because of the threat of inclement weather. After traveling to Baton Rouge and taking two out of three from the eighth ranked LSU, 'Bama welcomed the Tennessee Vols to Tuscaloosa for the first home SEC series in the new Sewell-Thomas Stadium. With Sunday's forecast for storms a decision was made to play a day-night double header on Saturday at 2pm and 8pm. Just like last week the Tide won the first two games before falling in game three. Alabama now has a record of 15-8, 4-2 in conference play. Tennessee is now 14-9 and 2-4 in the SEC.
Game One: 7-3 Victory
Alabama sent junior ace Geoffrey Bramblett to the mound to face Tennessee ace Zach Warren in game one of the series on Friday night. Bramblett entered the game with a 2-0 record and a sparkling 0.85 ERA over five starts. Warren was 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA at first pitch of the game.
The Vols came out of the gate fast in the top of the first with a lead off single from Chris Hall and a two run home run off the bat of future first round pick Nick Senzell. Senzell's opposite field blast to right was tracked by Chandler Taylor, who leaped at the wall and seemed to bring the ball back, catching it in his bare hand. However after a lengthy review the umpires ruled the ball had indeed left the park for a two run blast. Vincent Jackson followed with a double, and later scored on a ground ball for a quick 3-0 UT lead.
Thereafter Bramblett settled down, not allowing anymore damage, pitching into the seventh inning. In 6.1 innings the righty allowed eight hits, striking out six and not walking a batter. 'Bama pulled within one run in the bottom of the third, scoring twice. Will Haynie was hit by a pitch, Daniel Cucjen singled, Hunter Webb ripped an RBI double, and Connor Short brought in a run on a ground out.
'Bama finally caught up and passed the Vols in the fifth on the back of two walks, a hit batter and doubles from Short and Chance Vincent. Vincent's hit brought in three runs, giving the Tide a 6-3 lead. The Tide added one more insurance run in the eighth when Cucjen singled in Georgie Salem who had singled and advanced to third when his ball was misplayed in the outfield.
Freshman left hander Dylan Duarte relieved Bramblett with one out in the seventh and went the final 2.1 innings, allowing only one hit with two strikeouts and now walks to secure the first save of his career. With All American closer Thomas Burrows unavailable, Duarte did an admirable job filling in. The Tide out hit the Vol's 11-9 and drew three walks to none for UT.
Game Two: 11-3 Victory
Game two pitted 'Bama's Jake Walters against the Vols' Andy Cox, in what started out as a pitchers duel, but late in the came escalated to a Tide blow out win. Tennessee struck first, scoring single runs in the fifth and sixth innings. In the fifth a Leno Ramirez bloop double led to a run on a sacrifice fly. In the sixth Walters quickly got two outs before running into trouble by allowing a single, a hit batter, and a running scoring single. The second run chased Walters from the game in favor of freshman Kyle Cameron.
In the bottom of the sixth the Tide finally took control. In a moment of " hey coach, don't you think your left him in too long?", Cox walked the first three batters of the inning and then gave up a base clearing, three run double to Cody Henry, giving the home team a 3-2 lead. Chance Vincent added a run scoring single in the frame.
In the seventh inning the Tide sent 12 men to the plate, scoring seven times, with an RBI double from Henry, a two run single by Cobie Vance, a run scoring singe by Georgie Salem, and the biggest blast, a mammoth three run home run by the hot hitting Will Haynie. Cameron was the winning pitcher, going 1.1 scoreless innings, and was followed by an inning each fromand Sam Finnerty. 'Bama collected 10 hits, with Salem, Webb and Henry having two apiece. Henry drove in four on the game, followed by Haynie with three and Vance with two RBI. Alabama pitching allowed eight hits to UT, walked four batters and struck out seven.
Game Three: Lost 6-3
Junior Nick Eicholtz squared off against diminutive lefty Aaron Soto in the second game of the day-night double header on Saturday. Eicholtz was making his second start since being sidelined by a pulled muscle in his forearm. Once again UT was hot from the start, scoring two unearned runs in the first, and Eicholtz was his own worst enemy, walking two before fielding a two out dribbler in front of the plate that he tossed over first baseman Chance Vincent's 6'4" leaping head, scoring one run. An infield single drove in another before the inning ended.
The Vols added another run in the second on a two out rally, with two singles and a wild pitch leading to their third run. Soto stymied the Tide attack thru 4.1 innings before being lifted in favor of Eric Freeman. Freshman Chandler Taylor woke the Tide, and 'Bama fans up in the bottom of the sixth with a long blast to center that seemed destined to leave the park. However the ball caromed off the top of the wall, and the hustling Taylor dove into third with a triple. Fellow freshman Cobie Vance then singled Taylor in, finally putting the Tide on the board.
Ray Castillo followed Eicholtz to the mound, pitching scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh, allowing only a walk, while striking out two. The Tide kept their momentum going in the bottom of the seventh, tying the game at three apiece. Will Haynie singled and was sacrificed to second by Chandler Avant. Hunter Webb drew a walk, and both runners were chased home on a two run double off the bat of Connor Short.
Junior Matt Foster replaced Castillo, and had a scoreless eighth inning, before running into trouble in the ninth. With one out Derek Lance reached on an infield single, and was quickly sent back to the dugout after Haynie showcased his strong arm throwing him out trying to steal. However, a bloop double, followed by an RBI single from Chris Hall gave the Vols the lead back. They added insurance after Nick Senzel was intentionally walked and Vincent Jackson blasted a two run triple. 'Bama went quietly in the ninth, with a Hunter Webb single being the only base runner of the inning.
Both teams collected nine hits in the contest, but six walks by 'Bama pitchers, and two errors by 'Bama fielders help seal the fate in the game. Webb, Short, Taylor and Haynie all had two hits for the Tide.
For the second straight week the Tide won an SEC series, which is great. A 4-2 SEC mark at this juncture, for a team that was picked by league coaches 14th out of 14 teams, speaks volumes to their character and potential. However, losing the third game each week after winning the first two always leaves somewhat of a bitter taste in your mouth, of what woulda, coulda, shoulda. On the plus side the offense seems to be heating up after a second straight weekend of collection over 30 hits, going 30-97 as a team. The pitching remains strong and the defense, while not up to last years standards, is also been good.
I know injuries are a part of every sport, and in a long season like baseball, even more so. However, this Tide team is probably a Thomas Burrows oblique muscle away from being 6-0 in the SEC. The All-American closer is almost automatic at the end of games, and his absence has led to new rolls for several players in the bullpen, who for the most part have adapted very well. Burrows hopes to be available by next weeks series at Georgia, and his return can not come soon enough.
Tuesday the Tide will travel to Montgomery for their annual matchup with Auburn in the Capital City Classic, held at Riverwalk Stadium. The game is at 7 p.m. and will be televised on the SEC Network. After the game the team will board their bus and continue on to Athens to take on Georgia in a three game set, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with game times at 6 p.m., 6 p.m and 11 a.m. Jon Keller is slated to start against Auburn, and the usual weekend rotation of Geoffrey Bramblett, Jake Walters and Nick Eicholtz.
Bama Baseball Fever, Catch it!
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