No Chandler Taylor?
The Brad Bohannon era got off to a rousing start as the Crimson Tide swept three games from the Valparaiso Crusaders over the weekend. The rain didn’t slow down that bats: ‘Bama scored 34 runs on just 41 hits in the series.
The Tide won the opener 16-2, got a walkoff 6-5 win on Saturday and polished off VU 12-6 in Sunday’s third game. ‘Bama collected 41 hits, walked 22 times, and reached base 14 times after being hit by a pitch. The Crusaders opened the season having had only three outdoor practices, all on a football turf field, and all with temperatures at 30 degrees are below. The small, (4,500 students) private school team bussed 14 hours to play the series, and don't expect to be home until around 7 a.m. Monday.
Game One: 16-2 ‘Bama
Junior right-hander Sam Finnerty drew the opening day start and acquitted himself well after a rocky first inning. Finnerty recorded two quick outs before Valparaiso left fielder Blake Billinger hit an opposite field home run in to the right field plaza.
It took the Tide bats until the fourth inning to gain the measure of Valpo starter Jon Tieman. Tieman was a freshman All-American in 2017 as a closer, but moved into a starting role for the Crusaders this season. ‘Bama sent 12 players to the plate in the fourth and scored eight times to take a comfortable lead. Hunter Alexander and Sam Praytor both had two-run doubles in the frame, and John Trousdale had a two-run single. Chandler Avant had a single and a double in the big inning.
The Crimson Tide added one run in the fifth and put the game away with a five spot in the sixth inning. The highlight was a two run home run by new shortstop, JUCO transfer, Jett Manning. For good measure the Tide added two more runs in the seventh inning. VU picked up one run on reliever Tyler Adams in the seventh inning. Brady Greene and Mason Duke each pitched a scoreless inning to end the game. Finnerty got the victory with six innings of five hit, one run ball. The Pelham native struck out two and had no walks.
Manning led the offense with a 3-3 day driving in three runs with his home run and a sacrifice fly. Cobie Vance had three hits with a double and a walk. Avant and Alexander had two hits, including a double, each. The Tide had 17 hits, six walks, and three hit batsman (but did strand 12 runners on base.) ‘Bama pitchers held Valpo to eight hits, while only walking one and striking out four.
Game Two: 6-5 ‘Bama
In the most exciting game of the weekend, the Tide claimed a walk-off 6-5 victory on Saturday. Juco transfer Joe Breaux made his first hit in Crimson a big one, driving in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
Jake Walters got the start, but had a rocky day. Walters is the most experienced starter and the best returning arm for the Tide. Valpo got to Walters early with one run in the first, two runs in the second, and knocked in two more runs in the fourth. The Tide scored once in the bottom of the first without the benefit of a hit, when Cody Henry drew a bases-loaded walk.
Down 5-1 entering the bottom of the fourth, the Tide got a solo home run from another new face, juco catcher Matt Malkin. His dinger cut the lead to 5-1. The gap closed further in the sixth after Walker McClenney drew a walk and trotted home in front of Cobie Vance, who launched a long home run over the left center fence.
Kyle Cameron replaced Walters in the sixth, and pitching in his first game in over a year, did his job and kept the Tide in the game. Cameron, who missed all of last season with a medical issue, went 2.2 innings and allowed four hits with two strikeouts and no walks. With time running out, ‘Bama tied the game in the bottom of the eighth, again scoring without recording a hit. Vance led the inning off with a walk, and was sacrificed to second by Gene Wood. Breaux was hit by a pitch to put two runners on. After a strikeout for out number two, Chandler Avant drew a walk to load the bases. Henry was then hit by a pitch, driving in the tying run.
Dylan Duarte pitched a perfect top of the ninth, setting the stage for Breaux’s heroics. Sam Praytor led off by being hit with a pitch. Connor Stutts replace Praytor as a pinch runner. Keith Holcombe laid down a sacrifice bunt attempt, but beat it out for a hit. After two outs Breaux lined a two strike pitch into right, chasing Stutts home for the victory.
Duarte earned the win with 1.1 scoreless innings. Avant was the only batter with multiple hits, going 2-3 with a walk and a hit by pitch. The Tide collected eight hits, nine walks and had six hit batters, stranding 14 runners on base. ‘Bama pitchers allowed 13 hits, but only one walk while striking out five VU hitters.
Game Three: 12-6 ‘Bama
For the first time in the series, the Tide started out fast, scoring four times in the bottom of the first. Joe Breaux had an RBI double, Hunter Alexander an RBI single, Keith Holcombe and RBI triple, and Sam Praytor an RBI single to put the Tide in comfortable position.
However, starting pitcher Sam Gardner struggled in the top of the second as Valparaiso used five hits, including a home run, and a walk to score five times to take the lead. The Tide bounced back in the bottom half when Chandler Avant and Breaux hit back to back doubles to tie the game. Avant’s ball hit near the top of the fence, just missing a home run. ‘Bama used three singles and a two run double by Walker McClenney to score three times in the third to retake the lead.
Garnder got two quick outs in the top of the fourth, but was chased from the game by a triple and two singles, cutting the deficit to 8-6. Davis Vainer made his season debut and stranded the runners with a strikeout to end the inning. Holcombe added a run for the Tide in the sixth with his first career home run, a blast into the right field plaza. ‘Bama added three more in the eighth, with a double by John Trousdale and an RBI single by the red-hot Holcombe.
Holcombe finished 4-4, just a double short of the cycle, as he notched a home run, triple, two singles, a walk, and three runs driven in. Praytor was 3-5 with an RBI, Avant was 2-5 with a double, run driven in, two runs and a walk, and Trousdale went 2-5 with a double and a run.
Freshman left-hander Brock Guffey made his first appearance and pitched the last 1.2 innings in impressive fashion, striking out three without allowing a base runner. Vainer was the winner, going 3.2 innings, allowing two hits with one walk, and tallying four strikeouts.
The Tide had 16 hits, seven walks, and were hit twice in the game and stranded 12 base runners. VU had 11 hits, drew two walks, and struck out 11 times.
This team has a lot of potential to surprise people this year. Granted, the competition was not stiff, but the Tide has the ability to swing the bat, defend at an elite level, and throw strikes on the mound. The offense had 41 hits, scored 34 runs, and drew 22 walks — they probably want to grab the ice packs too: Tide batters were hit 14 times in the series. All that despite missing big bopper Chandler Taylor, who hit .286 with 16 home runs last season. Taylor will be back on Tuesday. On defense, ‘Bama pitchers allowed 14 runs on 32 hits with only four walks, while striking out 20 hitters.
The Tide only committed one error in the series, on a thrown-away pick-off play. Manning at shortstop, Vance at third, and Praytor behind the plate are elite defenders. Vance looked like a young Brooks Robinson in his debut at third base. Manning made several good to great plays, and Praytor blocks and throws at an elite level. Don’t make reservations for Omaha yet, but the program seems to be headed in the right direction. Attitude alone will be worth several more wins this year, as the guys are having fun and have responded well to Bohannon’s style.
Who Did What?
- Keith Holcombe 5-5, one walk, home run, triple, three RBI, walk, four runs
- Chandler Avant- 6-13, two doubles, four runs, two walks, two hit by pitch
- Cobie Vance - 4-10, home run, five walks, double, four runs, three RBI
- Jett Manning - 4-12, home run, three RBI
- Hunter Alexander 4-11, double, three RBI, three walks, HBP
- Sam Praytor- 4-9, double, three RBI, two runs
The Tide takes the field again on Tuesday at 3 p.m. CT when they host Middle Tennessee (3-0) for one game. The weekend series will be with Washington State (1-3), also at home. The WSU game times are 3 p.m. on Friday, 1 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. on Sunday. All games can be seen on the Watch ESPN App and SEC Network Plus.
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