The Crimson Tide improved their record to 10-2 with three wins over the weekend in The Irish Classic in Cary, North Carolina. The Tide defeated Notre Dame 4-0 on Friday and Niagara 8-4 on Saturday before losing to NC State by a 2-1 margin on Saturday afternoon. 'Bama bounced back to defeat Brown 2-0 on Sunday. The Tide used their early season mantra of outstanding pitching and just enough offense to get by, combined with stellar defense this weekend.
Game One: Win over Notre Dame 4-0
The story of the Friday night game was right handed junior pitcher Geoffrey Bramblett, who was spot on in his eight inning, 108 pitch performance. The Hoover native allowed five hits, all singles, with six strikeouts and did not walk a batter. Matt Foster cleaned up, pitching the ninth, allowing a hit and a walk, but no runs, finishing off the shutout.
The Tide got all the runs they needed in the first inning, after Keith Holcombe led off the game with a walk, followed by a single from Cobie Vance and another walk to Chandler Taylor. Cody Henry then smoked a double down the line, clearing the bases and staking 'Bama to a 3-0 lead.
Bramblett was only threatened a couple of times, in the second when an error put a runner on third and in the sixth when he stranded the bases loaded. The Tide added some insurance in the fourth when Chandler Avant singled and later scored on a single by Chance Vincent. The teams tied in hits with six each for the game, but the Tide benefited in walks with eight to only one for the Irish. The game was the third outstanding effort by Bramblett, but only his first win, pushing his record to 1-0 on the year.
Game Two: Win over Niagara 8-4
Coach Mitch Gaspard chose to give several reserve players a starting shot in Saturday's first game with Niagara. Gene Wood, Ryan Blanchard, Sam Finnerty, Daniel Cucjen and Hunter Webb were all inserted into the lineup and several made an impact on the game. Building depth for the long season is important for any baseball team, and 'Bama is deeper than they have been in several years.
Mike Oczypok got the start on the mound, his first since then 2013 season, and was the winning pitcher. The RS junior threw five innings, allowing three hits with one walk, six strikeouts, and one run allowed. Jake Hubbard, Zac Rogers and Finnerty finished the game off, allowing five hits and three unearned runs.
The Tide started fast, scoring four runs over the first two innings with the benefit of only one hit. Wood led off with a walk and advanced to second when Chandler Avant was hit by a pitch, then advanced to third on a fly ball. Wood and Avant pulled off a double steal for the first run. In the second inning four walks, an error and one single provided three more runs. Tanner Devinny and Daniel Cucjen walked, and with two outs Wood struck out, but reached first when the catcher couldn't handle the ball. Cobie Vance drew his first walk of the season to drive in one run and a Avant single plated two more, for a 4-0 lead.
'Bama tacked four more on the board in the fourth on five hits and one walk. Vance singled and scored on a double by Avant. Finnerty doubled for a run. After DeVinny walked and Cucjen singled, Webb laced a two run single for a 8-1 lead. The Purple Eagles cut into the lead in the sixth on two hits, a walk, a hit batter and an error, but Tide pitchers were able to shut them out the rest of the way to secure the victory.
The Tide had 11 hits, drew seven walks and had two hit batters. Avant had three hits and three RBI's and was helped by two hits from Cucjen and two hits and two driven in by Webb. Finnerty's first career hit and RBI came on a double in the fourth.
Game Three: Loss vs NC State 2-1
In a good old-fashioned pitching duel NC State pushed one run across in the sixth and one in the eighth to trump the Tide's single run scored in the fourth. Jake Walters started for the Tide and went six innings, allowing only four hits with six strikeouts, four walks, and one run. Dylan Durate, left-handed freshman out of Texas, followed and was the losing pitcher in the game. Durate went 1.1 innings, allow one hit and one run. Thomas Burrows followed for the final 1.2 innings, allowing his first base runners of the season, on two hits (one questionable) and two walks.
'Bama took the lead in the fourth when Keith Holcombe led off with a single, promptly stole second, and scored on a Cody Henry single. The Tide threatened to blow the game open in the fifth, but stranded runners on second and third with one out. Chandler Avant walked and was sacrificed to second by Chance Vincent. Conner Short singled and advanced to second on the throw in that held Avant at third. A strikeout and ground out ended the threat with both runners stranded.
NC State tied things up in the sixth when Preston Palmeiro doubled and scored on a single by Andrew Knizner. Palmeiro is the son of former Mississippi State and MLB star Rafael. Palmeiro was once again a thorn in the Tide's side, doubling with one out in the eighth. Burrows relieved Durate at that point. A passed ball and a sacrifice fly brought Palmeiro in with what proved to be the winning run.
The Wolfpack out hit the Tide 7-5 in the game and also reached on six walks, to only two free passes for 'Bama. The men in Crimson struck out 11 times in the game.
Game Four: Win vs Brown 2-0
An early Sunday morning game with Brown out of the Ivy League was the final game of the weekend. 'Bama was able to pull off a 2-0 victory by scoring twice in the top of the ninth inning in a game where they only recorded five hits, and reached on two walks and one hit batter. Tide pitchers held the Bears to four hits and walked five batters.
Senior right hander Ray Castillo got the start on the mound and pitched four innings, allowing only one hit with three walks and three strikeouts. Freshman Brock Love followed with two more shutout innings, allowing two hits with one walk and one strikeout. Love also picked a runner off of first base. Another freshman, Kyle Cameron, was the winning pitcher, going the final three inning allowing one hit, one walk, and striking out three. The victory was the first of Cameron's career.
'Bama threatened only once before the ninth when they stranded the bases loaded in the third. Chandler Taylor reached on a walk, and advanced on a bunt single by Keith Holcombe. When the ball was thrown away, both runners advanced, putting players on second and third with one out. Taylor tried to score on a ground ball by Chandler Avant, but was cut down at the plate for out two. Cobie Vance walked, but all three were then stranded on a strikeout.
The Tide's winning rally began with Vance being hit by a pitch leading off the ninth. Cody Henry was then called on to sacrifice bunt, but after two failed attempts was allowed to swing away. Henry redeemed himself with a long double, putting runners on second and third. Hunter Webb replaced Henry as a pinch runner. Chance Vincent hit a long fly ball to left for a sacrifice fly, scoring Vance. Connor Short lined a RBI single to center to push Webb across with an insurance run, and a 2-0 victory.
The Bears didn't go quietly in the ninth, getting a walk and an infield single to put the tying runs on base, and the winning run at the plate with two outs. Cameron coaxed a fly ball to Taylor in right to end the game. The Tide outhit the Bears 5-4 and also reached base on two walks and one hit batter. Tanner DeVinny threw out one runner trying to steal, and picked one runner off of first base to help the pitchers out.
'Bama pitching continues to be outstanding, but the hitting is going to have to give them more help at some point soon. Vincent is off to the best start of his career and Holcombe has been a shot in the arm at the top of the order. Avant and Henry are driving in runs and Vance, although cooling off some, continues to contribute. Taylor has cooled considerably since his fast start, but the swing and the attitude are there for him to bounce back. Short has been a spark as well. Salem has a track record of bouncing back from a slow start. The catching duo of Haynie and DeVinny need to contribute more.
A strange quirk in the schedule has the Tide playing Thursday-Sunday this week, with no midweek games. The #9 Oregon Ducks come to town for a single game on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. and the #21 Houston Cougars will be in for a three game set over the weekend: 6:30 on Friday, 2:00 on Saturday and 1:00 on Sunday (all CT). The teams early season tough schedule continues, which should steel them for SEC play when it begins on March 18th.
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* Don't forget: The Roll Bama Roll BBQ Meetup 2016 is coming up on April 16.