The Alabama Crimson Tide baseball team went to Nashville to play out the end of the season in a three game series on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Tide had already been eliminated from the SEC Tournament as one of the bottom two teams in a 14 team league. Twelve member institutes will continue play in Hoover, but ‘Bama, along with Tennessee will be left at home. Vanderbilt won the first two games by scores of 18-1 and 13-1 before Saturday’s game ended in a 3-3 tie after bad weather blew in after the eighth inning. The Tide finished their extremely disappointing season, the first under coach Greg Goff, with a 19-34-1 overall record and 5-24-1 SEC mark. The five SEC wins tied the record for the least amount of conference wins by a team since expanding to a 30 game conference schedule. Only 2010 Georgia and 2000 Vanderbilt have won as few as five games during that period.
Game One: Lost 18-1
With Dylan Durate out with an elbow injury, freshman Deacon Medders received the first SEC start of his career on the mound. Patrick Raby got the start for the Commodores. Alabama drew two walks in the first but couldn't push a run across, which lead to the bottom of the first. Six hits, two walks and a hit batter later Vanderbilt had sent 15 men to the plate and scored five first inning runs.
Raby settled in and mowed the Tide down through seven great innings, allowing two hits with seven strikeouts, and five walks. Paxton Stover relieved him and allowed the only ‘Bama run of the game on a Chandler Avant home run in the eighth.
Vandy piled on in the fourth, scoring eight runs on seven hits. two walks and a sacrifice fly. Zac Rogers had relieved Medders to begin the inning, and left after not recording an out, allowing six runs on four hits and two walks. Mike Oczypok, in his last appearance for the Tide after six years, replace Rogers and lasted three innings, allowing six hits and five runs ( three earned) with four strikeouts and no walks. Freshman left hander Sonny Potter was the only Tide pitcher not touched for runs, going the final two innings, allowing three hits with one walk and two strikeouts.
The Commodores out hit the Tide 21-3 in the game. Avant’s home run and singles by Cody Henry and John Trousdale were all that ‘Bama could muster. Both teams walked five times, while the Tide struck out 10 times and the ‘Dores six. Vanderbilt stranded 11 runners on base. Alabama also committed three errors in the game.
Game Two: Lost 13-1
With the Tide’s best starter, Jake Walters, pitted against Huntsville native Kyle Wright, Friday’s game looked to be a pitchers duel. Walters had been outstanding in his last five starts, beginning when he was allowed to start calling his own pitches. Vanderbilt’s Wright is being heavily considered as the number on overall pick in Junes MLB draft.
Walters wasn't at his best, and Wright was. The Commodores once again batted around in the first inning, sending 13 players to the plate and scoring eight runs on eight hits and two costly infield errors, including one on a double play ball. One of the hits was of the infield variety, and four were poked up the middle, taking advantage of the all carpet field that Vandy has at Hawkins Field. The Commodore batters are very adept at using the hard field to their advantage, pounding the ball in the ground and having it scoot through the middle.
After the disaster of a first inning, Walters settled down and only allowed two more hits and one run over the next three innings. In four innings Walters allowed 11 hits, 11 runs (five earned), walked two and struck out four, while throwing four wild pitches. Sam Finnerty moved in from center field to pitch the final four innings and allowed two runs on two hits and one walk, while striking out two. Wright pitched 7.1 innings, allowing five hits, only one walk and 11 strikeouts. Wright allowed one run on an Alex Webb RBI double in the second inning.
Vanderbilt out hit the Tide 13-6 in the game. Chandler Taylor had a double, single and a walk for ‘Bama. Chandler Avant had two singles. Will Toffey was 4-5 with three runs driven in for VU, while stud center fielder Jeren Kendall was 3-4 with five runs driven in.
Game Three: Tied 3-3
This was the most Alabama game of the year, with two plays in the eighth (and final) inning being a microcosm of the whole season. After being used exclusively out of the bull pen all year, junior Garrett Suchey received his first start of the year on the mound. Suchey replaced senior Nick Eicholtz who missed the game with an illness.
The Tide took their first lead of the series in the top of the first when Chandler Taylor blasted his 16th home run of the season over the right field wall, the right field bleachers and into the woods. ‘Bama added to the lead in the second. Cody Henry doubled to lead off, and Tanner DeVinny reached on an error. With Sam Finnerty at the plate coach Greg Goff called for a squeeze bunt, which Finnerty executed perfectly, scoring Henry, while also reaching base.
The Commodores finally touched Suchey for a run in the bottom of the sixth.Julian Infante had a one out single and scored on a two out triple by Jason Delay. Delay drove the ball deep to right where Hunter Alexander ran it down, reached up and looked to make the catch. After two steps and a roll the ball popped out. The umpires called no catch, and after going to replay allowed the call to stand, cutting the lead to 2-1 .In the top of seventh doubles by Sam Finnerty and Connor Short pushed the lead to 3-1. Will Toffey blasted a two out home run in the bottom of the seventh, cutting the lead to 3-2 and setting the table for the quirky eighth inning.
In the top of the eighth, with the skies starring to darken, the Tide looked to add some insurance. Alexander walked to lead off the inning, and was replaced by pinch runner Connor Wright. Henry layed down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance Wright to second. Alex Webb hit a soft line drive over shortstop Connor Kaiser’s head. Wright heisted to make sure the ball was caught, slipped down, then took off for third. A poor throw from left fielder Ro Coleman allowed Wright to stumble into third safely, but stepped off the bag to talk to Goff, and the ever alert Toffey had held on the ball and tagged him out.
Davis Vainer replaced Suchey in the bottom half of the eighth and got into immediate trouble with a lead off walk to Jeren Kendall, followed by a single from Julian Infante. Vainer recorded a strikeout for out one, and then induced a ground ball that wasn't hit hard enough for a double play, advancing the runners to second and third with two outs. With pinch hitter Reed Hayes at the plate Vainer was called for a balk allowing Kendall to score. Hayes then hit a fly ball to right field for out three.
Before the teams could come out for the ninth inning lightning struck close by, causing the umpires to clear the stadium. After a 45 minute wait, with no relief in sight the game was called, causing the unusually situation of a tie in a baseball game.
Suchey pitched seven outstanding innings, allowing six hits with two walks and seven strikeouts while allowing two runs. The Tide had five hits, with Taylor’s home run and doubles by Short and Finnerty being the big blows.
The season was a disappointment on so many levels, and in the next few days I will have some thoughts about bright spots and not so bright spots, and a look at what the roster may look like, and how the draft may affect the Tide.
As Always, Roll Tide,