The Alabama Crimson Tide baseball team has had a trying season, losing 19 of their first 21 SEC games, and 11 in a row. Traveling to Auburn to take on the 4th ranked Tigers seemed like a daunting task. However, for the sixth season in a row the Tide took the season series, this time with a sweep of the three games. ‘Bama also swept the Tigers in Auburn in 2015. Although AU always (eight out of nine) wins the Capital City Classic game in Montgomery, the Tide rises to the occasion when the games really count. The three losses very possibly knocked Auburn out of a hosting spot in the upcoming NCAA Regionals. Bama improved to 5-19 in SEC and 18-29 overall.
It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t always pretty, but damn it was sweet. The Tide came into the series with a 2-11 record in one run games, but won game one 4-3, game two 7-6, and game three 11-9 ( in 15 innings, and 6:36 minutes.) Game three was the longest game, by time, in ‘Bama baseball history, breaking the record set just two weeks ago at Starkville against MSU.
Game One. Won 4-3
Friday nights game one was rained out, setting up a double header on Saturday. Jake Walters resumed his opening game starting role, and gritted out five tough innings for the Tide.
‘Bama took the early lead on a laser shot home run to center by Chandler Taylor in the second, his 13th of the year. Hunter Alexander singled, and later socred in a single by Chandler Avant to give the Tide a 2-0 lead in the inning. Auburn got one back in the bottom of the frame on two walks and an RBI singke by Jonah Todd. Alabama added to the lead in the fourth whe Cody Henry reached on an error and scored on a Connor Short double. Henry tweaked his back in the process and had to leave the game, and did not play the rest of the weekend, a big blow to the Tide as Henry is a .300 hitter with eight home runs and over 30 runs driven in.
Walters allowed a lead off double in the sixth and was replaced by Garrett Suchey on the mound. Suchey stranded the runner to maintain a 3-1 Bama lead. With two outs in the top of the seventh, Taylor struck again, crushing his 14th hime run of the year, for a 4-1 lead. Auburn touched Suchey for three hits and two runs in the bottom of the seventh to close the gap to 4-3.
Suchey had a perfect eighth and went to the bottom of the ninth to try and close out the victory. The first batter reached in an error, but was erased on a double olay turned by Cobie Vance. Todd reached on another error, bringing Davis Vainer on to close out the game. Vainer struck out Josh Anthony to preserve the win, and notched his fourth save if the year. Walters was the winning pitcher, raising his record to 5-4. Walters allowed five hits and ine run in five-plus innings, with four walks and oen strikeout.
Taylor was the big gun offensively, finishing 3-4 with two home runs and a walk, with two driven in and two runs scored. Alex Webb added two hits, as the Tide colllected nine as a team.
Game Two- Won 7-6
With Nick Eicholtz walking Saturday morning in the graduation ceremony in Tuscaloosa, Dylan Durate took the mound for game two against Casey Mize for Auburn. The Tide took an early kead, scoring twice in the third after a single by Connor Short, a double by Walker McCleney, and some sloppy defense by the Tigers.
AU bounced back in the fourth to tie the game, highlighted by a long home run from Dylan Ingram. ‘Bama went back in front in the sixth when Chandler Avant doubled and scored in a Cobie Vance single. However, the kead was short lived, as Josh Anthony homered for Auburn in the bottom half to tie things up at three apeice.
Zac Rogers releived Durate after the long ball, and despite loading the bases, didnt allow the Tigers to take the lead. In the seventh the Tide used a single by Kyle Kaufman, and RBI double by Sam Finnerty and a perfect sqeeze bunt by Zack Coker to build a 5-3 lead. Rogers got one out in the bottom of the seventh before walking a batter and being replaced by Mike Oczypok. Oczypok became the first active Crimson Tide athlete to receive an MBA while still playing, to go along with his two undergradute degrees. Oczypok stranded the runner, and the Tide headed to the eighth with a 5-3 lead.
Alex Webb reached in an error, and Vance beat out a bunt single to put the Tide in business. Hunter Alexander singled to load the bases and Kyle Kaufman had a two run single. Sam Finnerty threatened to blow the game wide open with a drive to right, but Bo Decker made a great play to haul in the drive and throw to first base to double off pinch runner Connor Wright.
Oczypok allowed two hits to start the eighth, one a blooper just out of reach of Vance at second and Chandler Taylor in right field. Davis Vainer came in to relieve Oczypok. A fielders choice ground out scored one run and a walk and a single briught in another, but Vainer bounced back to strike out two to end the inning with a 7-5 lead.
The Tide tried to add insurance in the ninth, getting two runners on, but a second-home double steal attempt was thwarted. Vainer made thongs exciting in the bottom of the ninth, allowing two singles and a walk, while also commiting a balk. Jeremy Johnson ( not that one) lined an RBI single to close the gap, but with the tying run on third, Vainer struck out Blake Logan looking to end the game, and earn his second save of the day, and fifth if the season.
‘Bama had eight hits with Kaufman the only one woth a multi hit game. Aubur had 15 hits and drew four walks, but standed 11 runners, six in scoring position. Rogers was the winning pitcher for the Tide.
Game Three- Won 11-9, 15 innings, 6 hours 36 minutes
Nick Eicholtz took the Sunday start and pitched into the sixth. Little did we know he would be one of eight pitchers used by the Tide in the marathon game. Davis Daniel started for Auburn and was one of nine pitchers used by the Tigers. A total of 44 players, 22 by each squad, were used in the game.
Auburn struck in the first, when with two outs Connor Davis lined a single off of Eicholtz with two outs ( literally off of his body.) Apparently ot affected Eichoktz as he walked the next three batters to bring in a run. The Tigers used a walk and a double in the second to add to the lead before the Tide answered.
In the third Chandler Taylor singled and scored in front of Hunter Alexanders fofth hine run of the year. Kyle Kaufman doubled snd scored on Connor Short’s double to gove Bama a 3-2 lead. Auburn used a double and a single in the fifth to tie the game up.
A single and two walks ended Eicholtz’s day after 5.2 innnings. Mike Oczypok releived and allowed a walk and a run scoring single, before being replaced by left fielder Sam Finnerty. The Tide took the lead back in the top of the seventh in a pair AU errors, a walk, a sac bunt and one of the most bizzare plays you would ever see. Auburn pitcher Calvin Coker bounced a ball to Cobie Vance, who tried to check his swing, but made contact. The ball was caught by first baseman Dylan Ingram, who after some confusin threw to third to double off Walker McCleney, who had crossed home plate. After much deliberation, and much to the demise of the Barn faithful, the play was ruled a hit for Vance, and an RBI, and the game was tied at five each.
Turn about is fair play, and the Tigers capatialized in the bottom of the seventh, scoring a run when the first base umpire blew the call on a double play. Replays showed the runner clearly out by a step, but a run scored on the call to tie the game.
Finnerty sailed throught the eighth and ninth sending the game to extra innings. He wa eventually replaced by Deacon Medders, Zac Rogers, Tyler Adams, Sonny Potter and Garrett Suchey. In the 10th the Tide took a lead on an RBI single by McCleney. Auburn tied it up in the bottom half on a pinch hit single by Daniel Robert. The Tide took another lead in the top of the 11th on a mamouth blast to center off the batters eye from Taylor, his 15th of the year.
Auburn tied it again in the 11th without the benefit of a hit on a couple of walks, a stolen base and a wild pitch. The Tide tried once again to put the game away, scoring twice in the top of the 13th. McCleney reached on a bunt single to lesd off then Alex Webb followed with a one out single. Vance placed a perfect squeeze bunt to plate the first run. Three walks followed, the last to Rogers who was forecd to bat after losing the DH earlier. The apperance and RBI were the first of Rogers career.
After two runners reached off of Rogers in the 13th, he was replaced by Tyler Adams. A sacrifice fly and an error plated two run, tying the game up once again. In the bottom of the 14th Adams walked the bases loaded with two outs and was replaced by Sonny Potter. Potter got a ground out to strand the bases loaded and move the game to the 15th.
Taylor lead off the 15th with a double and advanced to third when Alexanders ground ball was booted. Finnerty had an RBI single, and Short added a sacrifice fly to score the two runs, for an 11-9 lead. Potter also batted in the inning, the first time two pitchers had batted in game for the Tide in recent memory.
Potter walked the first batter he faced and was replaced by Suchey, who had thrown over 60 pitches the day before. Suchey allowed an infield single, but got a pop up, a fielders choice and a fly out to end the game, and secure the sweep. Potter got his first win as a Tider and Suchey got his third save of the year.
The Tide had 17 hits, four by Taylor, three by Vance and Finnerty and two by McCleney and Alexander. Bama left 16 in base. Auburn had 16 hits and drew 16 walks, stranding 22 base runners.
Chandler Taylor should be up for SEC player of the week after going 7-14 with three home runs, two doubles, and four walks across the three games. Sam Finnerty was huge both on the mound and at the plate. Davis Vainer saved two games, and Garrett Suchey was outstanding as well. The starting pitchers did a great job of getting to the sixth inning, allowing the thin bull pen some measure of rest.
It was always pretty, but three wins over a hated rival that was ranked 4th in the country, Ill take that any time.
The team has five games this week, at Samford on Tuesday, and home games with Grambling on Wednesday, and Florida on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.