Once again the Crimson Tide went toe to toe with one of the nations elite, taking top ranked Florida to the very end, before succumbing by a score of 5-4. Florida was coming off of a 14 innings, 5 hour plus marathon loss to LSU on Wednesday, and also didn't have the services of SEC pitcher of the year, Logan Shore, who missed the game due to a stomach bug. Now it is a waiting game for the Tide, as the NCAA Tournament picks will be announced on Monday.
With Shore out the Gators turned to freshman Brady Singer for the first start of his career. Singer was a second round draft pick out of high school and turned down the one million dollars to go to school in Gainesville. 'Bama had a big third inning off of the hard throwing righty, scoring thee times for an early lead. Will Haynie and Chance Vincent both singled, and were chased home on a two run double by Daniel Cucjen. Hunter Webb then doubled to score Cucjen, as the bottom of the order continued to come up big for the Tide.
Jake Walters started for Alabama and had his first really bad outing of the year, never being able to command his pitches, or find the strike zone. The Gators scored once in the first on three walks and a ground out, and retook the lead in the third, scoring three times, aided by two walks and three singles. Matt Foster replaced Walters with no outs, and proceeded to throw five solid, scoreless innings, keeping the Tide in the game. In two-plus innings Walters allowed four runs on two hits, with five walks and a couple of wild pitches mixed in.
After the second, Singer settled down and mowed the Tide down with minimal effort, and pitches, entering the seventh at a total of 67 pitches thrown. Cody Henry worked a walk to start the Tide seventh, and when Singer hit Gene Wood with a pitch, he was lifted for an endless parade of Gator relievers, all of which came into the game throwing 94 mph and up. After two strikeouts, pinch hitter Connor Short, coming back from a torn quad muscle, singled through the right side to score Henry and tie the game.
Wood was playing because third baseman Chance Vincent had to be taken out of the game when he aggravated a hip injury diving for a ball in the fifth. Hitting coach Andy Phillips was tossed out of the game in the seventh when the first base umpire called Hunter Webb out on a supposed check swing, clearly a missed call. Phillips was thrown out for arguing the call, and the umpire seemed to revel in the moment, even punctuating it with a load boom as he sent Andy to the showers, a very unprofessional move from a terrible umpire, that had burned the Tide last weekend in Tuscaloosa during the USCe series.
With a tie game headed to the eighth ('Bama was designated home team), coach Mitch Gaspard called on his crutch, All American closer Thomas Burrows. A lead off single, sac bunt and double scored the go ahead run for the Gators. Burrows had a scoreless ninth, and the Tide went down easily in the eighth and ninth to end the game on the short end of a 5-4 score.
The Tide collected six hits, walked once, had one hit batter and struck out four times in the game while stranding four runners. The Gators had eight hits, seven walks and six strikeouts while stranding nine. Will Haynie threw out two base runners trying to steal.
Once again 'Bama was on the brink of beating a top 10 ranked team (this time number one) but didn't quite have the horses to get over the hump. Florida was able to pitch the game like a big league team, playing match up, with lefties (throwing 95) came in to face left hander batters, and righties throwing 95 came in to face right handed batters. The depth of the Gators of both every day players and pitching is unmatched in the country. That same depth just isn't there for the Tide.
Now Alabama plays the waiting game, hoping a 15-15 regular season in the SEC is impressive enough to the NCAA Tournament committee to warrant an at large bid to the 64 team field. The announcement will be made on Monday and Gaspard and his troops will be sitting on pins and needles waiting on the phone call. Gaspard feels confident that his team should be included in the field, while some so called experts feel otherwise. After that the fate of Gaspard's tenure will need to be addressed, as his contract runs out after the season ends.
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