The Alabama Crimson Tide suffered two heartbreaking losses to Kentucky on Friday and Saturday, before bouncing back with a thrilling 2-1 victory on Sunday. The Cats won by a score of 3-2 on Friday night, and prevailed 6-2 on Saturday by virtue of a walk off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning. Tide starting pitchers, Geoffrey Bramblett, Jake Walters and Nick Eicholtz combined to pitch 20 innings, allowing 15 hits, five walks, 17 strikeouts and five runs, lines that normally will win you a series. However the 'Bama offense could only manage 18 hits and six runs over the course of the three games.
Game One: Lost 3-2
Geoffrey Bramblett, the Tide ace, took to the mound on Friday, and was outstanding, pitching seven innings, allowing five hits with one walk and nine strikeouts. Through six innings the Hoover righty had held the Cats to only two base runners, a lead off single by Storm Wilson in the first and a walk in the second to Luke Becker.
Alabama looked to have all the runs they would need after the top of the third, scoring twice. Georgie Salem led off with a double, and scored on another double by Chandler Avant. Cobie Vance singled up the middle for the Tides second, and last run of the day.
The Wildcats did all of their scoring in the bottom of the sixth inning, with the help of only two hard hit balls. Kole Cottam lead off with a solid single. Storm Wilson tried to bunt him over, but reached when the ball was thrown away. Wilson was awarded a hit on the play, and runners where then on second and third with no outs. Bramblett struck out the next batter, but the ball got away and Evan White reached base, and a run scored. JaVon Shelby then doubled in the last two runs of the game, for a 3-2 Wildcat lead.
The Tide never really threatened the rest of the way, only placing three players on base from the fifth inning on. 'Bama out hit the Wildcats 7-5 on the day, and both teams only put one player on via the free pass. Vance was the only hitter for the Tide with more than one safety, and Wilson had two knocks for the Cats. Bramblett was the hard luck loser, dropping his season mark to 3-1. Zach Brown won for UK, allowing six hits and two runs in his seven innings pitched. Six foot eleven freshman closer Sean Hjelle recorded a save for the Cats.
Game Two: Lost 6-2
Alabama got another terrific start, this time for sophomore Jake Walters, who pitched 5.1 innings, allowing five hits with three walks and five strikeouts, allowing one run. The Cats struck first, scoring in the second after a single, a walk, a sac bunt and an iffy balk call on Walters. The Tide tied things up in the third with the help of only one hit. Hunter Webb singled, advanced on a wild pick off attempt and a passed ball, then scored when Cobie Vance's ground ball was thrown away by short stop Riley Mahan.
Kentucky scratched a run across in the bottom of the eighth off of Sam Finnerty on a single, sac bunt, ground ball and infield single to take a 2-1 lead into the top of the ninth. With the Tide down to their last chance after two quick outs, catcher Will Haynie got a belt high fast ball and deposited over the left field fence for his fourth home run of the year, and a tie game at two apiece. Georgie Salem followed with a bunt single, but was stranded to end the frame.
Ray Castillo was called on to pitch the ninth, and quickly ran into trouble. Two singles but runners on second and third with no outs. Castillo intentionally walked Zach Reks to load the bases and set up force plays at all bags. Jon Keller was brought in and struck out the first batter he faced. However, Mahan blasted the second pitch he saw for a long grand slam, giving the Cats the 6-2, hard fought victory.
'Bama was out hit 13-7, and struck out 10 times while only drawing one walk. Tide pitchers walked four and struck out eight on the day. Sean Hjelle earned the win for UK, while Castillo suffered the defeat. Chandler Taylor led the Tide's offense with a double and a single, the only player with multiple hits for the men in Crimson.
Game Three: Won 2-1
In a quick two hour and 18 minute game, the Tide rode outstanding pitching from Nick Eicholtz and Thomas Burrows to a 2-1 victory in Sunday's game three. Eicholtz bounced back from a rough outing at Georgia last week to go a career high 7.2 innings, allow only three hits, one walk, and one run, while striking out three. Burrows pitched the final 1.1 innings, allowing two hits while striking out two and earning his seventh save of the season.
Alabama jumped out early on big Kentucky righty Kyle Cody. Cobie Vance ripped a one out double in the right field corner then advanced to third on Cody Henry's ground out, then scored when JaVon Shelby threw Chance Vincent's ground ball away with two outs.
Eicholtz and Cody locked into a pitching duel from there, with neither team able to mount a serious scoring threat until the top of the eighth. Georgie Salem led off for 'Bama with a single, was sacrificed to second by a Hunter Webb bunt, then advanced to third on a wild pitch. Chandler Avant lined a single to score Salem, and a 2-0 Tide lead.
With a low pitch count Eicholtz started the eighth inning, and quickly got two outs before allowing a single to the Cats. All American closer Thomas Burrows was summoned at that point. Storm Wilson lined a single off of Burrows foot on the first pitch he saw. Evan White then singled up the middle, scoring the Cats first (and only ) run of the game. Shelby hit a deep drive to left that Webb hauled in at the wall to end the inning.
'Bama went quickly in the ninth, and then Burrows made quick work of the Cats, getting a fly ball for out one, and striking out the next two batters, earning the save. In nine appearances, covering 11 innings, Burrows has yet to allow a run this season, and has given up only four hits, while striking out 18. He is as close to automatic as there is in college baseball, and needs to pitch more going forward.
The Tide won despite only collecting four hits on the game, and drawing two walks, while only striking out four times. The Cats had five hits and only received one free pass. 'Bama moved to 19-13, 6-6 in the SEC, while UK fell to 22-9, 8-4 in the SEC.
After letting two chances at victory get away, the Tide did bounce back to take game three, despite their offensive woes. The Tide only collected 18 hits in the three games, while scoring only six runs. The pitching was outstanding, good enough to win all three games with some help from the bats.
Eicholtz rebounding from a his only poor outing of the year will be a big boost going forward, if he builds on it. Bramblett and Walters have kept the team in every game they have pitched. Getting to the eighth or ninth with a lead, with Matt Foster and Burrows at the back end of the game, the Tide is hard to beat. Figuring out how to push enough runs across for that to happen is the biggest issue right now.
Vance had the best weekend hitting for the Tide, going 4-16 with a pair of doubles. Salem is showing signs of shaking off his early season blues, and now has a modest four game hitting streak. The Vestavia senior was 3-9, with a double and scored two of the teams six runs on the weekend. No other player had more than two hits in the series.
The Tide welcomes Birmingham University to Tuscaloosa on Tuesday for a 6:30 p.m. game, with revenge on their minds. The Blazers shut out the Tide 8-0 on March 22 in Birmingham. Jake Hubbard appears to be the choice to start on the mound for 'Bama. Another ranked SEC team comes to town for the weekend, when Ole Miss makes the trip from Oxford. Friday's game is at 7:00 p.m., Saturday's first pitch is at 5:00 p.m. and Sunday's get a way game is a 1:00 p.m start. The regular rotation of Bramblett, Walters and Eicholtz should get the starting nods.
Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It
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